Co-designing the future of Trafalgar Park with Square One Landscape Architects | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

​”The park is then allowed to become a platform for the overlay of a new history and allows the development of cultural heritage to take place – it becomes a didactic and evolving landscape”

Mark Saint Pôl explains how Trafalgar Park presented “a unique opportunity to create a unifying civic space in a physically and financially divided community”.

Mark Saint Pôl of Square One Landscape Architects explains how Trafalgar Park, the 3 hectare park located between Woodstock and District 6, presented “a unique opportunity to create a unifying civic space in a physically and financially divided community”.

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The three hectare Trafalgar Park in Cape Town runs from above Nelson Mandela drive in District Six, down to the main road in the up-and-coming Woodstock neighbourhood, just outside the city centre. It has a rich cultural and archaeological heritage which spans centuries. In 2012, the Cape Town Partnership(CTP) declared it a “park of possibilities”. Despite a few upgrades to its immense heritage resources, swimming pool and fencing in recent years the park has not met its immense potential to play a diplomatic platform for improving the surrounding  neighbourhoods of Woodstock and District 6.

Since 2012, City of Cape Town (CoCT) and Parks and Environmental Resource Management, started working with other departments and consultants towards the development of the Integrated Management Framework for Trafalgar Park.

The CoCT hosted two workshops for stakeholders in 2012 and 2013, which developed a final recommendation report and recommended further research resulting in CTP talking with and surveying people, businesses, and institutions regarding their feedback on the parks’ developments.

In 2013, CTP invited all interested parties to an open day in Woodstock where they were encouraged to voice their concerns, needs, and vision for the park and the area. Square One Landscape Architects were hired by the City to design the park drawing on the collective analysis and research. The design of the park was selected as an official World Design Capital project in 2014, due to its unique culture history and the City’s inclusive consultation in drawing up the rejuvenation plan for the park.

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For Square One, the challenge was to improve the environment of the surrounding neighbourhoods, while positively engaging with historical, socio-economic and cultural aspects. Their most recent work on the Foreshore, with the aim of creating an “urban sanctuary” has been highly successful- judging by its use and those enjoying their lunch within the plaza. Their understanding of the transformation of the urban environment provides confidence and hope, that at a much larger scale like Trafalgar Park, magic might happen.

Mark Saint Pôl explains how Trafalgar Park presented “a unique opportunity to create a unifying civic space in a physically and financially divided community”.

Taking from history, co-creating the future

“A considerable amount of historical analysis was undertaken to understand the social and natural processes that informed the development of Trafalgar Park within its urban context.”

The park runs along the French Lines of defense that were constructed in 1781 by the French Garrison at the Cape to protect the city from the British. A number interesting heritage artifacts still exist in the site including the French Redoubt – declared a national monument in 1968 and the quirky old brick kiln.

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In 1905, the park was officially established for the residents of District Six as the East End Plantation and held gardens similar to the Company’s Gardens during the same period with the southern extension of the park covered in pine trees which extended across to the lower slopes of Table Mountain.

“During earlier phases of the park’s history, the space was used and cared for by the surrounding community. The beauty and unique character of the park has been stripped out and eroded over time and the park is currently associated with high levels of criminal activity. Civic space is crucial to foster community cohesion and engender a sense of civic pride.”

Parks as universal platforms for public life

“Appropriate design is essential to the transformation of the park. Our aim was to provide universal platforms for people to inhabit and use to engender civic pride.  Our primary concern is with place-making and creating comfortable and beautiful environments – for example by creating protection from the elements and facilitating pedestrian movement.”

“Its archaeological heritage is easier to respond to because physical structures and references remain. However, its social history requires people to add layers into the park.  For example, a walk of remembrance could be provided that perhaps the District Six museum could curate into, or traditions that used to take place in the park could be revived. The park has been designed to be able to evolve and accommodate future uses, whether it’s markets or community events, performances or spiritual gatherings. The park is then allowed to become a platform for the overlay of a new history and allows the development of cultural heritage to take place – it becomes a didactic and evolving landscape.”

“Well designed outdoor space is the most universal component of a city – it’s an enormous asset that is used by absolutely everyone. Examples in the City such as the Sea Point Promenade and Green Point Park have become a massive integrator of various types of communities and provide for people of all ages and cultures. Trafalgar park presents a unique opportunity to create a unifying civic space in a physically and financially divided community. The park needs to become an integrator for the existing surrounding communities and those that might again inhabit District Six, as the area is redeveloped over time.”


Creating iconic spaces

“A bold intervention is needed to make the park iconic. The park is currently underutilized and there is no sense of community ownership.”

“A large scale intervention, rather than piecemeal development would also be more cost effective over the long term, as cost savings through for the procurement of labour and materials and earthworks for the whole park would be more efficient.”

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“This would create a sense of civic pride and encourage people to become involved in the upkeep and management of the park. Criminal activity can be effectively addressed through implementing appropriate design interventions and ensuring that the space becomes a centre for civic life. The initial intervention should be of a grand and cohesive scale to ensure that a safe and usable environment is provided. International best practice in creating safe spaces through environmental design has shown that once a safe and well-designed space is created and the community takes ownership of the park, it would become well used and crime levels would reduce. In addition, the park could be provided with full time security guards that could guard the park at night and act as tourist information guides during the day.”

“In higher density communities such as the high density town-houses associated with the Old District Six, people need access to high quality open space. Consolidating the lack of residential gardens into one civic space is essential to balance high density urban living. It should be noted that shared outdoor space is ultimately more cost effective, as not everyone can have or afford their own private garden. The park therefore needs to be high intensity and high density.”


Securitizing public space through creating seamless borders

“We had two major public engagements: one where we worked with people to understand what exactly they wanted for the park and what their needs were e.g. security concerns, then we presented a plan for further discussion and feedback, before the plan was adjusted one last time and submitted to the CoCT.

“Dealing with safety in public spaces is often a catch 22 situation. Private landowners don’t want to front onto the park because it is unsafe. Instead they create massive fences and walls which in effect makes the area more unsafe. It’s creating areas that are even more hostile that people cannot move freely through a site so they feel unsafe. It’s in those very areas, those pinch points, with fenced-off pathways on either side that people get mugged –  because they can’t escape.” The City would like surrounding businesses to open their doors to the park to help them create safer and active edges, but landowners do not want to do this until the crime issues have been resolved.

“We had to think of innovative ways of creating fencing, or creating edges that weren’t fences because we do not want to create a compound. We looked at the core areas and said: what we could do now that would enable us to secure the fortification. Using sculpture and – steel fencing we were able to create something that was more than just a fence, with interpretive signage and panels on it. But for the most part, the park would remain open. For the most part it would be about bringing in security and surveillance.”

“Everything we did in terms of earth shaping is very considered, how we’ve cut down into the landscape and created embankments that aren’t unsafe, that people can’t hide behind, but that still create shelter.”


Making the park work

“Our cost estimate in 2014 indicated that an intervention of this magnitude would cost around R30 million. The development of the park might be assisted through the development of a trust or an organisation like a ‘friends of the park’ to enable fundraising to help the park reach its full potential. It is essential that high quality, well-designed, interesting and unique public open spaces are created in the City, as this is a core component of fostering a competent, well balanced and integrated society.”


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About Lisa Novacek

Elizabeth was born and raised in Vancouver. Graduating high school in 2010, she moved to Prague to complete her bachelor in International Relations. In 2014, she traded the European city life for an 8 month municipal internship in rural Alberta where she developed an interest in urban planning and design.