Play the City returned to Khayelitsha on the 20th of November, 2015 for a second session to test and gain opinions about the current Spatial Development Framework for Khayelitsha’s CBD.
After the success of the initial ‘Play the City’ engagement process with stakeholders around the Khayelitsha Station precinct, Dr. Ekim Tan and the Play the City team were invited back by the Khayelitsha Community Trust (KCT) to use the game to test and gain opinions about the current Spatial Development Framework (SDF) for the greater Khayelitsha CBD.
“ After participating in the trial or pilot during Department of Design in 2015, KCT were so impressed by the ability of the game to translate abstract plans into 3D spaces- which are far easier to understand – that they invited Play The City back, this time, for a much bigger, more complex round of city gaming” says Janine Loubser, a spatial designer for the game.
“To us- it’s more than a game- it’s a serious planning tool.” -Mkhululi Gaula, CEO of KCT
Admitting that the planning processes are weakened by a lack of thorough public engagement seems to be a big ask for many city officials, however, the CEO of KCT, Mkhululi Gaula, openly admitted that “as technocrats we can plan as many developments as we like, but anything we do is going to fail if we do not plan with the community.”
This bout of the game brought property investors, city officials, and community members around 4 large tables, which dominated the small room in the Zenzele Training Centre, Khayelitsha. The distinct lack of chairs is intended to assist participants in being fully engaged throughout the process. Clusters of stakeholders were assigned to each precinct on the board and allowed time to review what had been proposed in the SDF. Then analyse the densities, the roads, shops and room for pedestrians; and subsequently adjust their precinct as they saw fit.
“Is it possible in this area to have a viable mixed use and have a vibrant city life after the shops close in a mall?”
Tan – the ‘game master’ – holds the space, polices the time and continuously asks provocative questions. Normally played with a smaller amount of gamers; players are given a budget and defined set of rules which would govern what changes they can and can not make. However, the intention of this first round, was to gain a broad understanding of the community perceptions, needs and wants for the area.
During the round, Tan would frequently consul the ‘experts’ present, asking if certain changes and additions to the board were possible, would bulk infrastructure allow for it, will private investors invest, is this feasible – constantly doing a ‘reality check’ to ensure that the game has a real output, rather than ending in a fantasy space.
Before the game began, gamers were given an opportunity to introduce themselves and voice their biggest concern they hoped to address through the game. Safety, attractive development for outside investors, urban agriculture, improved public spaces, high density quality urban environment – with balanced mixed use and playgrounds for children were some of the shared outcomes.
Gamers all agreed that a new “urban image” for Khayelitsha needed to be created in order to attract young professionals to come live and work in the CBD.Gamers were grouped according to their interests in the area and divided up to work on their designated precincts. The room buzzed with ideas, scale models of buildings were moved, pedestrian walkways were added, things were shuffled around and ideas spread.
When the group reconvened and the tables reassembled into a grand, now updated, master plan, each group was given a chance to present back their changes to the group. The group focussing on the precinct around the current magistrate’s court described it currently, as ‘dead’ and proposed a revitalisation of the current open public space through pedestrian links to commercial and sports’ precincts. ‘The square should be celebrated much more than it is.’ Another group focussed on improving the mall through a series of covered walkways, and again, pedestrian links to transport and commercial hubs. The mixed-use precinct were happy with the general design principles and existing proposed layout, but want it to be ‘bulked up’ to ensure that it becomes the ‘catalyst for the urban feel’ in the greater area, with offices, studios and restaurants along people-orientated streets.
The group tasked with evaluating the sports precinct, were not as happy with the proposed facilities and designs. The group expressed how the sports centre itself needed to be bigger to accommodate new and different sports, an academy and possibly a doping centre. The group was adamant that there needed to be more things happening then just large tracks of fields. “This proposal brings all the various recreational facilities together and makes this the number one sports facility in Khayelitsha. If the vision is for this to be a premier facility, it will help create a demand for residential in the area, because people will want to live there, and the more people who live there, the safer it will be.” Sport’s precinct representative.
Tan continued to hold the space, constantly asking the right questions, drawing out justifications for various choices and changes, and sometimes highlighting (through questions that lead to self discovery) why some decisions were superfluous. Each precinct group was given time to share what they liked, disliked and had changed. Issues around the of safety children walking to school, economic and environmental sustainability, protected public space and pedestrian routes and ‘hour afters dead spots’ were raised by most of the precinct groups.
An idea to build a knowledge hub or tertiary institution
Something that was not mentioned in the initial concerns, but became a well supported suggestion as the game progressed, was the need for a tertiary education hub – be it a technicon, university or some form of innovation hub. The strong youth representation, who had been working on a largely residential precinct, raised and motivated for hub, as well a theatre in the area. “The talent of the youth in Khayelitsha is wasted in gangs, because they have nowhere else to go to express themselves, or to explore their creativity and talents.” said the youth representative – who wished to remain anonymous. Interestingly, the youth representatives defended their decision to have it in a residential area, because they perceived it as safer, which meant children could access the centre at any time of the day or night.
Once each group had presented, extensive discussions, arguments and counter-arguments had been deliberated; gamers were asked to vote for what they thought was the most needed and best precinct – which should happen soonest?
The improved sports’ district – now with facilities for various other sports, more social spaces and commercial nodes – was well supported.
There was also a big demand for the improved retail area, which gamers suggested be transformed into a safer, more pedestrian-friendly space, with residential units, opportunities for start-up businesses and higher density office blocks.
Surprisingly the idea of medium density housing projects, with community vegetable gardens, enclosed public spaces and ground floor shops, did not receive too much support. Rather, it was the community centres and theatre hubs in the housing areas that are getting the votes, not the housing itself.
While this was just the initial game, moving forward, the individual games will focus on each precinct in more detail, with tighter parameters. The KCT representatives were happy with this initial game and hopes that the more focussed games will give them detailed and thorough insight for moving forward with the master plans for the Khayelitsha CBD.