Walking these streets
The idea of loving the city is an old adage. That’s why I’m not going to talk about that here, instead I'm interested in a conversation on how much more loveable and liveable the city would be if we had a better culture of walking. A great deal of people rely on walking for their daily commute but the infrastructure and design of our roads and streets don't lend themselves to making this a pleasurable experience. In addition, we lack a culture of walking sans destination in mind…….walking for its own sake.
There is no doubt that Johannesburg is the most powerful economic organizing unit in Africa, drawing on people, jobs, capital and other inputs required for economic growth and political change. But if we look at liveability standards, it leaves a lot to be desired. That’s if we consider liveability as safety, multi-class interaction, clean green spaces and public spaces.
When you unravel the history of this city, you start to grasp how the city’s architecture informs our experiences. The fact that the city is incredibly hostile to walking and cycling is informed by its often romanticized yet brutal history:
Johannesburg was never meant to be. Born in 1886, it was the place where poor men came to make fortunes mining for gold. It was not a place to live. The Transvaal's mineral wealth prompted one of humanity's ugliest debacles–the Anglo-Boer War from–from 1899 to 1902. The city of Randlords was only meant to be mined, and then left behind. - Museum of African Design
What happens in cities matters. Subcultures are created and spread out to influence the broader mainstream culture. But cities can also be culture-less, soul-less, undesirable and unlovable…..especially when poorly designed or un-designed.
This complex, unfinished and sometimes feels like ‘un-designed’ city still stands today…..and I believe our strongest chance at true cosmopolitanism - the ideology that all human beings belong to a single community, based on a shared morality - depends on better liveability. That is to say: more accessible, free, public spaces where young, old, rich and poor meet to create, exchange ideas, interact & create new identities. Physical spaces that acknowledge the presence of the body beside the agenda of the eyes.
Following on Michael Allegretti’s ideas that ….The battle for hearts and minds takes place in cities. From those struggling to make ends meet to wealthy investment bankers….. I keep reflecting on whether Johannesburg has potential to win these battles by becoming a world class, decolonised, liveable African City?