TOP Until the 1950’s the city was still comfortably connected to the sea. The muchloved boardwalk played an important role in the lives of citizens and the city had a sense of scale and density that made it socially rich and economically viable. MIDDLE In the 1960’s transport planners devised what would later become known as “Solly’s Folly”, building part of a ring road that was planned to go around the city, effectively cutting the city off from the sea. The project was never completed, but it signalled a long period of preference for cars over pedestrians. BOTTOM By the 1970’s a series of modernist buildings, many in the “brutalist” style, often government buildings, were completed. This started a trend that would continue into the 1990’s, of architecture that turned its back on people. Together with underinvestment in public space and with many Capetonians moving to suburbs, the city centre lost much of its earlier vibrancy.
During high apartheid (1948-1989) segregation became more extreme and municipal housing schemes were located further from white residential areas and separated from those of other race groups by industrial areas, railway lines and greenbelts. While these developments decoupled people of different races from each other, modernisation and industrialisation were in the process of influencing the city’s development in a way that also disconnected people from the central city. Modern ships being larger, the docks required expansion and plans to reclaim land from the foreshore went ahead, releasing land for development. This land could have helped realise an earlier vision of the urban design of the city – one of the sea being connected visually through wide boulevards to the parliamentary precinct, and Table Mountain beyond. Instead, an increase in the number of motor vehicles and the need for more roads took precedence, and the city’s foreshore area became a mess of car parks, broad roads and overpasses, cutting off the city from the sea and resulting in it being virtually inaccessible to pedestrians. The interpretation of modern architecture – seen in the design of buildings like the Civic Centre and the Reserve Bank, which stood closed off from the streets – served to dehumanise the city further. If well-designed buildings are meant to make a positive impact on their environment and the surrounding community, this trend in architecture achieved the reverse. A once vibrant city, Cape Town closed in on itself, shutting out its citizens and encouraging decay, crime and degeneration.
Published on Oct 15, 2010