Redrawing the townscape

Much of the work I do, focuses on converting metropolitan and village regions into townspaces. Cities are clustered towns, pilled up activities and pumped up underground services. Towns need to be redrawn, rethought and rebranded.

The idea that there are projects for small towns that don’t aim to connect at ground level is not much of a surprise. With low revenues, and sometimes divergent per capita incomes, mobility and access reforms are a bit of a tough conversation to have without a pencil.

Building people and places is my life goal

One afternoon, a group of students from the Mmabana Arts Foundation were sketching up a view of the upgraded Mega City in Mahikeng, North West Province, South Africa. Officially there were just about 320 000 inhabitants in the local municipality’s boundary in 2016 (actually closer to 360 000). Generally the town has practically been sprawling at a rapid rate, and the costs of which are not only complex — but largely inequitable.

Map of a portion of Mahikeng.

Lines starker than Alexandra and Sandton scream over the shaded sidewalk and tarmac to gravel paths in very dense settlements under traditional leadership. Tribal land portraits flesh through dust and need urgent interventions. The line between Mega City and Dibate is a complex question but simply answered by good broad vision for mobility and access backed up by practical action. In some of my current work, it’s pretty obvious how this line will have to fade and development must kick in before the local community fights through the doors of public sector services. At the same time, local communities need to meet, and develop clear, compelling and beautiful arguments for a unique type of development in the area.

A piece of Lonely Park-Signal Hill in the Mahikeng Local Municipality. Note the animal drawn vehicle, bus and no sidewalks. This road is a mobility route to the N4, a national highway desperately looking for context specific design.

Without offering anything hardcore, watching the students sketch the view; outlined something to me that is worth noting.

People make communities tick, talk and keep time.

Local residents, like me, hovered around from one student to another. Leaning over the townscape, some dreaming through the history of the area and the mall. One of the earliest shopping centers of a black government in the Southern region of Africa. Some described how popular it was on a regional level. Others complained about the quality of the artworks and why they did it. But most were deeply moved and rather nostalgic — even the youth described how it was before the upgrades.

Nostalgia seams to carry meaning represented by local icons, walls, faded roadways and other memorabilia. It was a pleasure to indulge. You’ll remember the dust, the people and the scents after a visit. You’ll also question growth, worry about poverty and redraw in case luck isn’t nearby.

In the mobility and access context towns need to be redrawn; untaught and taut. People and places are built not just made of memory but meaning plastered between sand, stones, bricks, feet and wheels.

Thank you for reading. Share pics of a small town in your area and tag me.

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