Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Too Many Cooks - Bad Cooking

For a start, I have to reply to a comment – How do I think that we, tied up by a SACU treaty, can produce our own construction material to competitive costs?

Well, I’m not a dormant politician but as far as I know, it is quite possible that Botswana exempt VAT from local products. That would be a good start, I think.

So, I’m still awaiting my sticker for the car from Boidus - BOTSWANA MUST SECURE A  PRODUCTION OF BUILDING MATERIALS OF ITS OWN!

There have been some articles in our papers about traffic chaos and lack of landmarks in the City. To this I will now dedicate this column and I do not separate the two issues, in fact, I think they are just two sides of the same coin.

Arriving here in January 1979, I became fascinated by the then small Garden City that had just taken a step over the Segoditsane River to Broadhurst and expected further growth to the west of the railway – the reason for my recruitment, actually.

I was so interested of the planning background for Gaborone that I went to the National Archives to find some early planning documents. The librarian was very astonished to see the first planner ever visiting him.

I’ve got the approved or accepted layout for Gaborone from him. And that’s more or less exactly what you can see in the old part of the City today. But also an early alternative that convinced me that the used “garden city” concept wasn’t just a mere idea amongst others. I have a copy of this early alternative below.

Pic 1 -  “alternative from Nat Archives” 

Here you find all the significant conceptual features for a classical garden city - neighbourhood units, curved streets/roads, schools and shops in the middle possible to reach by foot within acceptable distance (1/4 of a mile=ab. 400 m) and vehicular roads with roundabouts (for slow and easy moving traffic).

All this was accentuated in the final, implemented layout (plus more roundabouts). In 1979 all was still functioning well and actually the newly constructed Gaborone was a landmark in itself! Many visitors convinced me of that and I found no reason to change “planning attitude” for the Gab West planning. 

Consequently, Gab West can be characterized by the neighbourhood units and curved streets/roads and the first phases by the schools and shops centrally located and, naturally, a traffic system based on roundabouts (to keep up with the then admired landmark mage and proper function).

But for the schools, something happened during the detailed planning period.

It can probably be illustrated by the pictures below from Jwaneng (planned 1977-1979) and a phase of Gab West (planned late 1988). 

Pic 2 - Jwaneng and Pic 3 -Gab West

Looking at the Jwaneng neighbourhood portion we see that the Setswana Medium School is very central in the “hood”, not easily reached by car but within easy reach for walking children.

In Gaborone West the schools have moved closer to secondary roads to become more easily reached by cars. The reason – educational policy had changed and many school sites were allocated to private developers for English Medium Schools. 

There was no announced policy shift from the Ministry of Education but planners adapted to what had become the song of the day – and tried to save the “hood” from disturbing traffic. For Secondary Schools, even more attractive to private developers, the norm was to site them close to Primary Roads for easy access. However, such roads were often in the hands of Roads Department (being gazetted) and they were most often denied direct access e.g. Rainbow and Westwood schools.

But the traffic disaster is partly due to this privatization of schools that could not be foreseen at the planning stage. When their number became significant, and every second private car in mornings had to deliver children to their private schools, a kind of coupe de grace was given to the traffic situation in Gabs. Enhancing this was naturally the (to planners) unforeseen support by banks, council and government to private car ownership. So we now have a great number of bank-owned cars with children taken to schools every morning. So much that the Director of Roads, supported by Council and elected MP’s seems obliged to deconstruct the original roundabouts and create a small Los Angeles. That, as we all have experienced, works even worse than the now deconstructed previous system.

For more reading about this I recommend the interviews with Luc van der Casteele in Sunday Standards (two so far and more promised). Excellent analysis of the current, “improved” traffic system!
That, as well as the school concept, has become modern “planning disasters”. I’m mentioning this as I, in year 2000, was invited to UB to talk about “The Problems of Urban and Regional Planning in Botswana” and wrote a paper about “Planning Disasters in Botswana” instead. Basing this on the then acute Mogoditshane squatting  and subsequent “yellow monsters” as well as the so called Urban Standards (presented by DTRP totally void of any research and earlier standards). We are coming back to these historical events if you are interested.

So, I guess I’m back to “Planning Disasters in Botswana” with this column.
There are more of disasters, though. Next column will be dedicated to an ever ongoing bureaucratic belittle of a grand scheme of improving the environment of Gaborone. 

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