Thursday, August 9, 2012

RENEWABLE IGNORANCE – Gaborone City 25 yrs

Beauty comes with a Twist

What I want to say this time is not hard to write about – and follows:

The change 25 yrs ago – from Town to City – should have been a remarkable change of protocol. According to complains I hear, running a godforsaken rural small town on the outskirts of the Kalahari, however idyllic, innocent and against all odds declared a Capital, is not the same as running a CITY CAPITAL.

Instead of boozing up the management in 1987, the Council went on with business as usual. By time a handful of un-experienced students (seconded by GoB) were filling a few vacant posts in the council as qualified, essential staff were obviously too expensive for the council. 

A serious mistake by the council of the time.

Consequently, the small town, upgraded to a City, is still being run by fairly understaffed departments that are not always equipped to scrutinize and confidently handle multimillion projects. And the important decisions are made by elected laymen. The paradox of democracy, some intellectuals say.

Thus, the talk of the town indicates that the City Council is not run by appointed experts but by elected politicians and the forces of the market. Councillors are frequently changed and many of them have a few fingers in the market pot, too. So the market is well represented and ignorance renewed.

So I hear – let me try and analyse what has gone and is going wrong with this City of ours. My lamentation goes like this, based on a few key issues stated here:

1.                        Any capital City must be able to present the visitor and the inhabitants the “soul” of the country in what many of the critics call landmarks.

2.                        A true capital City must have a functional and understandable context, even if complex. And being an important focal point in the region (Greater Gaborone).

3.                        Infrastructure must be well functioning and rational, without unnecessary hindrances and bottlenecks - e.g. we must have a well functioning and maintained public transport system covering the region.

On the question on “landmarks”, I want to remind you of my view presented in Plain Talk 8 (Boidus 01/o4/12) – i.e. as an ordinary “town” Gaborone had a significant landmark, once. It was a small “Garden City” in accordance with the theories of Ebenezer Howard – a small garden city straight out of the theory book! Not many other towns could proudly refer to such a fact, not even the ones in UK. And due to clever politics of the time, the “segregating” elements in Howard’s model had been eliminated. Gaborone was visited by many professionals, quite a number of interested people, just because of this 

I have to mention this as reminder of the fact that a landmark might not necessarily be a museum, a traditional village, a game reserve or some statues! For instance, Brasilia and Chandigarh are visited on basis of the architecture and planning. Food for thoughts, so to say!

Now, when the basis for that kind of appreciation is destroyed, we have to try a different approach to the landmark issue. In my view, a pleasant city must have a number of interesting buildings, places (and spaces), creating a wholeness. And if not any single one of them can be pointed out as THE landmark, the totality, the whole, and their interaction will constitute the landmark we are lacking so far.

I pointed this out earlier and also that the landmark we had was bit by bit de-constructed and resulting in an amorphous traffic chaos - a rather embarrassing, negative landmark.

As far as I can see, the future for a positive image of the City lies with a profound understanding of “wholeness” and not individual “landmarks”.
This leads me to propose that the City must urgently create a City Beauty Council or Urban Aesthetics Council, an advisory board that most of the important cities all over the world has created since long.

Such a board must deal with the impact of large projects (as defined in the Town and Country Planning Act) and include the visual impact. As most architects and designers today are 110% and more in the harness of the developers, this must be a relief to them. And that is my experience of the Beauty Council I come in contact with in Stockholm, once upon a time. Most architects liked it and referred to it when developers became too arrogant. And it also encouraged the designers/architects to lift themselves up to levels they didn’t know they were capable to reach.

A few, though, complained about “no freedom of design”. What kind of freedom – freedom to be arbitrary or freedom to be appropriate? However, most professionals in major cities are accepting that their prposed “landmarks” are scrutinized by such a council.

I sincerely think this is the way of giving us in Gaborone some kind of official evaluation of the visual impact future developments may have.
But it is important to understand that a Beauty Council is not there to “put lipstick on the gorilla”. On the contrary – the task is to care for wholeness, townscape, interaction between buildings – in short, a city to be proud of!

The illustration this time you find on the InterNet as it doesn’t want to print. It is about the Stockholm Beauty Council and look for < skonhetsradet> where you find a brief presentation.

Why don’t we try this way out of an embarrassing situation mostly due to so called market demands? The global market hasn’t been able to take care of its own needs, and even less the local needs. That’s a lesson we are learning more of day by day.

When coming to the point of the City as a focal point in a region, I must say that the ignorance by the City regime doesn’t augur well for the future. The historical boundaries are reached and the city, with prevailing development concept, has come to its “walls”. So the future of the City and its importance is very much outside these walls.

This is a common and shared problem for most cities. And most of them have created some kind of regional association for co-operation. And soon this has resulted in some kind of regional plan, indicating how different parts of the region can cooperate on transport, localization, infrastructure a s o. A planning colleague, Jason Sechele, has written about this kind of problems but as far as I know, not been approached by GCC – why?

I fear to conclude that GCC is awaiting that “experts” from Town and Regional Planning will have to impose some ridiculous concept on GCC!
It’s high noon for acting, now – or it will be imposed ten years too late! And the situation has grown from bad to worse for GCC.

The most pertinent question for a Regional Council will, naturally, be about public transport (as many places outside the City are “bedroom communities” to Gaborone). Which leads to the next issue listed above.

On the question of a functional, rational and easily run public transport system for the region, I have written about the issue in, mostly, Sunday Standard, but my readers now might have missed it. Thus, here it is in brief:

I feel embarrassed on behalf the road engineers that are busy to find borrowed money to de- and reconstruct the roads we have. A few friends are calling our City “Baby Los Angeles”! And I have to agree that we are day by day looking like that. And we have learnt nothing from the LA syndrome or decease.

I was in LA in 1964 and met Victor Gruen, a (then) well known planner and architect (at that time there was no rift between architects and town planners – the latter was then just a specialised architect). When I asked what had happened with the famous public transport system, he sighed and explained:

The streetcar (trams) and bus based system was very good and based on taxes. A new ticketing order was introduced and all of a sudden the finances went into red. The system cost more than money gained. Soon the transport system was up for sale. Ford, Chrysler and GM were interested to buy. They had invested a lot in a growing auto market. GM took over and started dismantling the public transport system bit by bit (after raising the ticket price, of course). Result – public transport disappeared and private cars increased. And the sprawl of suburbs also increased. Enormous traffic jams occurred. Federal and government money went into new roads and large traffic junctions (also tax money but much more than before). So, we have subsidized the auto industry and here you can see the new LA that doesn’t function any longer!

And that “new” LA we are mimicking here now! To a high cost and also subsidizing private, bad functioning, private transport.

Something must be learnt from this – especially when we can study cities of our own size (e.g. Grenoble) having well functional public transport to a cost that makes ticketing almost unnecessary.

I think I have to stop for the time being and I recommend further reading on theories of arriving to beauty and good functioning cities on the net. For instance  that is easily found on Google or Yahoo.

There is also a Council for New Urbanism (CNU) on the net that is a must for everyone interested in urban development in our times.

Now I’m preparing to dig into an issue that are of great importance to our towns and cities – that is land evaluation and the role of land costs for town planning and building.

Jan Wareus/JOWA – If you don’t know, my full name is Jan Ove Wareus 

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