Sparking creativity, promoting shared ownership of Corridors of Freedom

Sparking creativity, promoting shared ownership of Corridors of FreedomBus rapid transit (BRT) infrastructure forms the backbone of the Empire-Perth Corridor, here passing through Noordgesig and Orlando in Soweto. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)

As the physical process of rolling out the backbone infrastructure for Johannesburg's first three Corridors of Freedom gathers pace, the City has embarked on a parallel process on the emotional, imaginative level - that of naming the Corridors.

Tasked with driving this process, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) - a lead agency in conceptualising and implementing the Corridors initiative - devised a campaign that seeks to capture people's imaginations while promoting a real sense of shared ownership of the Corridors.

Schools competition, public vote

Coronationville Secondary School learners make a case for their proposed name for the Empire-Perth CorridorCoronationville Secondary School learners make a case for their proposed name for the Empire-Perth Corridor of Freedom during a presentation at Rand Girls' School on 30 September.Starting with the Empire-Perth Corridor between central Joburg and Soweto, the JDA recently ran a competition which saw groups of grade 9 learners from 11 local schools researching, workshopping and brainstorming to come up with 11 candidate names for their Corridor.

A panel of judges then selected a shortlist of five names, which will soon be put to a public vote to narrow it down to three. These will then be presented to the City Council to make the final decision on the name of the Corridor.

Eric Itzkin, Deputy Director for Immovable Heritage in the City's Arts, Culture and Heritage Directorate, says the JDA's campaign goes far beyond compliance with the legal requirement to consult on naming and re-naming in the public sphere.

"Individual Rea Vaya stations along the Corridors were named some time ago, but this is a lot bigger, and it creates an opportunity for a creative process and for real public engagement."

The campaign will help to generate interest and "a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipation for the further roll-out of the Corridors. Names are things that stir people's emotions, so we're tapping into that".

'A more personal level of engagement'

Eric ItzkinEric Itzkin, Deputy Director for Immovable Heritage in the City's Arts, Culture and Heritage Directorate.At the same time, it isn't just a top-down administrative process: while the ideas that are coming out of it are rich and varied, says Itzkin, "they also come from the communities along the Corridor, the people with a real interest, who will be using it.

"We deal with a whole lot of naming and re-naming exercises, and sometimes it's advertised in the newspapers and you don't get a lot of responses, for whatever reason, but here it involved a more personal level of engagement."

Oral history practitioners conducted workshops with the learners, guiding them on how to identify relevant themes and how to engage with their local environment and history.

"So the kids get to do something that is a bit of a departure from the standard curriculum," Itzkin says. "It's enriching for them in terms of education, and in terms of citizenship and interaction with social and government structures.

"The learners get a sense of satisfaction, of participating, of making a difference. And some group of kids out there are going to be the originators of the name that is eventually selected."

What's in a (Corridor) name?

Construction work on the Hillbrow Rea Vaya stationConstruction work on the Hillbrow Rea Vaya station. The extension of the BRT network from Parktown to Alexandra and Sandton will establish the backbone of the Louis Botha Avenue Corridor.Once the Empire-Perth Corridor has its new name, the campaign will be repeated for the Louis Botha Avenue Corridor between central Joburg, Alexandra, Sandton and suburbs further north, and then for the Turffontein Corridor.

In each case, the new name will help to build the brand of the individual Corridor, as well as of the Corridors of Freedom initiative as a whole.

"The name is going to be a big part of the image and of the whole experience of the Corridor," Itzkin explains. "And it's an opportunity to tap into and reflect the heritage and the distinctiveness of that particular Corridor."

Doing this in a way that unifies - coming up with an inclusive name - is not a straightforward task, given that the Corridors stretch over a number of different areas, and extend not just lengthwise but also outward into the communities they pass through.

Among the standout features of the Empire-Perth Corridor, for example, is the concentration of educational institutions at one point along it. "So one idea was to try to capture this, the idea of the pursuit of knowledge, which could perhaps be generalised into a striving for improvement," Itzkin says.

"At the same time, that's just one section of the Corridor. So this is something to think about, that you've got a whole lot of diversity that you're trying to bring together, and you don't want to promote an aspect that isn't representative. It's got to make sense all down the line."

Undoing the legacy of apartheid town planning

Providing residents with efficient, affordable connections to places of work and leisureProviding residents with efficient, affordable connections to places of work and leisureA crucial part of the Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy, the City's Corridors of Freedom programme seeks to undo the legacy of apartheid town planning, which saw the majority of Joburg residents shunted to the city's outskirts, far from access to services, jobs, training and growth opportunities.

It aims to do this by laying down well-planned transport arteries - the Corridors of Freedom - linking mixed-use development nodes which are characterised by high-density accommodation supported by office buildings, retail development, and opportunities for leisure and recreation.

In his State of the City address on 6 May, Executive Mayor Parks Tau said the Corridors programme was the City's "next area of acceleration", noting that the planning and budgeting frameworks for the first three Corridors had been finalised and approved.

And Finance MMC Geoffrey Makhubo, in his 2015/16 Budget speech on 26 May, set aside a large part of the City's three-year capital budget for implementing the Corridors programme - in particular, for continuing the roll-out of the transport and other infrastructure that forms the backbone of the Corridors.

For Itzkin, the Corridors initiative is a powerful tool, both for tackling the problems of connectivity facing any large city characterised by urban sprawl, and for addressing the historical spatial-racial inequalities of apartheid.

"It's reconfiguring in significant ways, and trying to turn around long-entrenched patterns. It's a bold way, and it's being pushed with a lot of political will and determination," Itzkin says.

"It's impressive, it's of quite a scale, and it's reaching through the length and breadth of the city. It's quite a major start in a relatively short space of time, it's changing the way that people move and think, it's going to change residency patterns, so it's really quite far-reaching."