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Urban living rooms in Duncan Village (Civil Project)

In September 2004 we left Sweden for South Africa where we in the township of Duncan Village, East London had situated our diploma work with a focus on public space. It was possible for us to do so after receiving a scholarship from SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. The general aim of our project has been to suggest ways on how to upgrade public spaces, and thereby support and improve the urban social life in Duncan Village, East London.

The work has been done in line with the Duncan Village Local Spatial Development Framework (LSDF), a redevelopment program set up by Buffalo City Municipality, with the aim of solving the housing shortage in the area, and along with this improve the social and economical conditions for the residents. Public spaces which have such a large impact on the social conditions and the physical environment of urban areas, have due to the apartheid planning been neglected both in Duncan Village, East London and many other South African cities.

Duncan Village has the urban qualities of density and interaction of people in movement but there is no real arena for the public life. We have therefor outlined a suggested for an overall structure of public space. It is based on an inventory showing weaknesses and threnghts in the existing city structure and an analysis functioning as a tool for understanding where, and in what way public activities are conducted. We have also taken the current redevelopment plans of Duncan Village into consideration by trying to envision how they could affect the future structure and use of public spaces.

The proposal suggests how the network of public spaces could be complemented and developed, and by this offer better opportunity for social interaction as well as commercial-, public- and transport facilities, along with housing and parks. Two areas/nodes have been chosen for individual detailed studies resulting in design plan proposals for those. The main definition of a public space is obviously that it is not private, but when it comes to further understanding the role it plays in the urban life, and what to consider when planning it, there are several ideas.

We have attracted attention to a few aspects that have been significant in our work: Rob Krier – Urban space: Public space should be clearly defined and planned urban space where the boundaries between private and publicare easily understood. Christopher Alexander -The concept of linearity: An appropriate concept for Duncan Village since the main public activities are already today concentrated along a central spine; the Douglas Smit Highway. Bill Hillier – Integration in the urban grid: Accessibility and through-movement which are both spatial and functional effects of integration are crucial for the usage of public space. Howard Besser – Artificial public space: Car orientated spaces as shopping centers outside the city core often exclude the poorer parts of the population.

In the redevelopment of Duncan Village we consider it important to provide public spaces accessible to all of its residents. Jan Gehl – The discussion of quality and function: To obtain functional public spaces of high quality the planning method must be: first life, then spaces, then buildings. Gehl divides activities conducted in public space into three categories: necessary, optional and social activities. This division functions as a tool when observing life in public spaces. Following planning principles have also been important for our plan proposals: Crime prevention: Safety is one of the main concerns when developing public spaces in Duncan Village.

Public spaces must allow interaction but also ensure that the spaces are defensible. Discouragement of land invasion: Degradation, occupation by informal dwellings and other “non-public” uses originally not intended for public spaces could be prevented if they are developed with a clear public purpose and if there is a mutual concern for them. Diversity and multi-functionality: Close proximity of the private and public spheres makes public spaces welcoming and private dwellings convenient.

Diversity in space also supports economic activity. Flexibility and multi-functionality is important when investing in new developments where the cost is crucial. Public open spaces should be able to accommodate a range of activities with change in intensity and changing use over time. An analys method, a pulse measurement, based on Alexander’s idea of linearity and Gehl’s three categories of activities (necessary, optional or social activities) has functioned as a tool for visual observations of where public activities are most frequent and how they are conducted.

We have chosen Douglas Smit Highway which runs centrally through Duncan Village as our research area. The method has helped us to understand where developments or improvements of public spaces are best located. In our proposal for the overall structure of public spaces we have chosen to put our main focus on the environment along Douglas Smit Highway which is the artery linking the area. We suggest a mixture of public spaces with differences in intensity and character to increase movement and thereby interaction of people.

We also suggest the upgrading of existing pedestrian paths and the development of new pedestrian connections, giving a structure that increases the accessibility between neighbourhoods and the public places. The areas chosen for detailed studies are of different character, illustrating how public spaces focusing on different uses can be developed and used. The first area includes Gwentsha Memorial Garden, an old burial site, and the site for the Community Hall, showing how these can be upgraded and linked.

The area is intended to become a space for optional and recreational activities, a centre of cultural activity. The second area, a plan proposal for the Jabavu node, is taught to be a everyday urban space for intense necessary activities. The area is ment to provide for a civic centre and other public facilities, as well as market places and public spaces for commercial activities and community happenings.
Source: Blekinge Institute of Technolog
Authors: Öberg, Marie-Louise | Berg, Nina Pisto

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