by Luke Stevens
The 2010 reconfiguration of Green Point Common brought tremendous improvements to a poorly organised area of shabby and neglected amenities. But in the rush to complete the design and works, I believe, that some mistakes were made.
The Park vision of March 2009 that informed the design speaks at one point of permeability: [this] relates to a series of spaces that are visually, spatially and functionally integrated into a collective whole and allow for the optimal flow of pedestrians and cyclists within these three dimensional rooms. The design has certainly adhered to the phrase “within these three dimensional rooms”. Subsequent decisions by City departments have taken up this call to balkanisation by throwing up fences and high walls at each boundary.
The casual visitor is now limited to the Urban Park in the South West corner. This area comprises less than one fifth of the total. Of this fifth, a further third is largely consumed by an off-limits area for stadium turf production (as yet, never used).
- There is no access to the land occupied by the stadium, nor to the magnificent views from the podium and the potential of that vast and idle space.
- There is no access along two full sides of the Metropolitan golf course.
- There is no access to a paved, public running track around the cricket oval. There is no access – even visual – to the new athletics stadium.
- There is no access anywhere along a North-South axis that could link the Urban Park with the V&A Waterfront’s Granger Bay coastal walking path and the sadly fallow Fort Wynyard.
Any negotiations to open these closures or to emphasise permeability by introducing improved and varied pedestrian flows are blocked by the City (or SANDF in the case of Wynyard) in one of two ways: either by reference to the OVP landscape master plan – as if the layout is cast in stone for all eternity – or by appeal to security considerations.
Security is a mysterious trump card: thousands of people pass through MyCity bus terminals and Spoornet railway stations and wander through shopping malls all day long. But for some reason a solid concrete stadium podium is too precious. It needs an inner perimeter fence and an outer perimeter fence and a network of security cameras lest any person should somehow damage it!
Moreover, we live in an economic environment that places great value on buildings but seemingly little on public open space: currently underway is a technically complex process to amend the environmental and zoning conditions. In some ways this could be a good thing. Activation of the street frontage of the stadium along Fritz Sonnenberg and Granger Bay Boulevard would bring some welcome life to the precinct. Indeed, no reasonable person could deny that the commercial activity that is currently prohibited within the stadium structure should rather have been permitted. Yet this application for a relaxation of conditions is also coupled to an attempt to obtain GB7 business rights for the undeveloped piece of land along Granger Bay Boulevard.
Obviously that part of the precinct plan is not cast in stone. The City commissioned business plan’s projected return on investment on a row of buildings, potentially 66m high, has enough immediate appeal to encourage some flexibility; enough appeal to override the 2006 EIA Visual Impact Assessment that confirms how uncomfortable our stadium would look when closely dressed in a strait jacket of commercial outbuildings. But more distressingly, it overrides the harder to articulate imperative that people should be able to simply wander through the precinct.
And wander we should: physical inactivity is now identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. Also in 2010, the World Health Organization published global recommendations on physical activity for health. At a community level these recognise the importance of creating supportive environments to promote physical activity. These include:
- Reviewing urban and town planning and environmental policies at national and local level to ensure that walking, cycling and other forms of physical activity are accessible and safe;
- Providing local play facilities for children (e.g. building walking trails);
- Facilitating active transport to work (e.g. cycling and walking) and other physical activity strategies for the working population.
All of which has been done: the GP Park vision continues: pedestrian thoroughfares through the park should serve to link the V&A Waterfront and Historic Fort Wynyard with the Mouille Point Promenade / Beachfront and Lighthouse to the City network of Public Space and Squares.
Currently that is only possibly by walking along a circuitous route of largely deserted streets. Given how intimidating it is to walk down an empty street – compared with how invigorating it is to walk along a quiet parkland footpath – and coupled with the long term benefits of encouraging foot traffic and cyclists and skateboarders – it would seem that there is a stronger case to begin with what is easy: activate the area by lowering fences, unlocking gates and throwing open the stadium podium.