Open Streets fosters safe communities, business growth

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Cape Town central’s popular Bree Street will turn into a playground without cars this weekend, as part of a global movement to increase pedestrianised spaces in cities.

Locals already love hanging out on the street as it offers a number restaurants, coffee shops and other interesting shops.

On Sunday, all of Bree Street’s 1,4-kilometre stretch will be closed to cars from 7am until 3pm for an event called Open Streets, creating a festive atmosphere.

Marcela Guerrero Casas, a Colombian who has lived in Cape Town for the last four years, is director of Open Streets, a non-profit organisation she founded.

Marcela Guerrero Casas, director of Open Streets, believes streets with more pedestrians lead to safer, happier cities. She is part of a team that will run activities on Bree Street this Sunday, when cars will not be allowed to drive there. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Marcela Guerrero Casas, director of Open Streets, believes streets with more pedestrians lead to safer, happier cities. She is part of a team that will run activities on Bree Street this Sunday, when cars will not be allowed to drive there. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Guerrero Casas imported the idea to Cape Town from her home city, Bogota, which is home to almost nine million people.

She said she used to go with her father to Ciclovia, a “temporary network of car-free areas and routes throughout the city”. It started 41 years ago in Bogota and presently takes over 120-kilometres of streets every Sunday.

Guerrero Casas said it has become the “biggest recreational programme in the country” and is now government funded.

Since its launch in late 2012, Open Streets has held three events, two in Observatory and one in Langa.

Its goals are to “build shared places that embody respect for all and help bridge the social and spatial divides of Cape Town”.

Guerrero Casas said Open Streets has shown her “there are many people who are passionate about living in this city”.

“The response has been incredible and positive. We invite people to occupy the space and share their activities with the public. Anybody can come on the day and host an activity on the street,” she said.\

Bree Street will be closed off to traffic from 9am to 2pm on Sunday to make way for Open Streets, an initiative that promotes pedestrianisation of Cape Town's streets. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Bree Street will be closed off to traffic from 9am to 2pm on Sunday to make way for Open Streets, an initiative that promotes pedestrianisation of Cape Town’s streets. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Guerrero Casas said there were a host of benefits that come with increasing pedestrian spaces in cities.

“It brings people together to create safer, cohesive communities. There’s safety in numbers. The more people you have on the street, the more eyes you have on the street,” she said.

“When you take cars out of the street, you create safety and you can get on the street with a bicycle or walk without fear of being knocked down by a car. You also spend more time experiencing the street.”

Guerrero Casas said pedestrianised cities encourage citizens to be more active, as they move around the differently without driving a car.

“There are opportunities to engage people in healthy lifestyles. On Sunday, you can expect bicycle riding up and down the street. We will have skateboarding obstacle courses too,” she said.

Socialising along Bree Street on Sunday will come some entertainment too.

As Guerrero Casas says: “Streets can become platforms and stages for people to express themselves.”

“We will have small groups doing the tango, yoga, the Cape Town Opera will perform, so will a choir from Langa, a graffiti artist will be doing a piece, a gallery will be showing their work. It’s an experiment.”

She said there would also be a “children’s corner with games for kids and people playing board games”.

“We encourage people to come on the day, pick a corner and start doing it. If somebody wants to come and play the guitar, they can do that. You can even just create a little lounge, a space where people can sit down and watch the street,” said Guerrero Casas.

Open Streets also intends to foster business growth by having more people engage with the city’s offerings.

Jeremy Coetzer, co-owner of Issi coffee shop on Bree Street, said they have been in business for seven months and want to “create connections” on Sunday.

Jeremy Coetzer, co-owner of the coffee shop Issi on Bree Street, hopes Open Street will foster a healthy relationship between businesses and locals. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Jeremy Coetzer, co-owner of the coffee shop Issi on Bree Street, hopes Open Street will foster a healthy relationship between businesses and locals. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Open Streets exposes businesses to people coming in. It’s will help us,” he said.

“We as businesses are also getting together and shaking hands. We are reaching out to people to get involved. It’s a big community building exercise. We can do with more of that.”

Coetzer said South American cities seem to have a “lively street culture”.

“We see carnivals and a community feeling. We will benefit if we own the streets a bit more and get out. We all like being in the street. We like walking and talking,” he said.

“If you associate a city with a pedestrian feel then it’s seen as a warmer, social feel with human contact. It appears to be a fun city. We can also do with less cars and more walking.”

However, a number of business owners interviewed on Bree Street will be shut on Sunday, as it is their day off work.

Jason Lilley, owner of Jason Bakery, said: “We are open six days a week and we rest on Sunday.”

Jason Lilley, owner of Jason Bakery, says Bree Street has developed over the last seven years into a hub where property has becoming sought after. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Jason Lilley, owner of Jason Bakery, says Bree Street has developed over the last seven years into a hub where property has becoming sought after. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“I’m going to pop by and see how it goes. I like the idea and also that’s it’s on a Sunday,” said Lilley.

“It will show people Bree Street. We need things like this. This city is not just about beaches, the mountain, parks and gardens. We need street life too.”

Lilley set up shop on Bree Street six years ago “when everything was dead”.

“It’s been developing and has grown. Bree Street is prime real estate now. There are new developments going up. It’s going to keep growing,” he said.

Lilley attributed its growth to “more people living in town”.

“The city is expanding but apartments in town are too small. A lot of people are using restaurants as their kitchens and places to socialise. The cost of eating out and cooking at home can be similar,” he said.

“It was necessary for Bree Street to happen. It has quality restaurants and diversity. Our clients range from top lawyers to tattoo artists. Whenever another restaurant opens on the street, it increases numbers that come here.”

FAST FACTS: OPEN STREETS

Open Streets takes over Bree Street on Sunday from 7am until 3pm, meaning the street will be open to pedestrians only. No cars would be allowed on the street.

The City of Cape Town supports the event and has said cars would be able to cross Bree Street at Wale, Strand and Riebeek streets only for the duration of Open Streets.

The city said it supports the event in “encouraging different modes of transport and creating platforms for community building, creative expression and local economic development”.

Organisers said there would be at least 50 different activities to participate in on the street. This would include “dance and fitness, food stalls, street board games and a mix of other activities”.

“For those who would just like to kick back and relax for a few hours while the little ones are entertained in a safe space, there will be a pop-up lounge and a coffee station.”

Open Streets is free to the public and is a citizen-driven initiative, “working to change how streets are used, perceived and experienced”.

The next event is planned for Langa in March this year. Organisers said they have 20 streets where they would like to hold their event.

For more information go to http://openstreets.co.za

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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