Tension breeds creativity, and Cape Town does not lack for tension with the most expensive real estate in Africa squeezed between picturesque mountains and pristine beaches, a vibrant emerging pan-African community, a dominant creole-Malay Muslim culture, hipster creative industries, and low-income ghettoes that encircle the city, themselves a poisonous legacy of political spatial design. When Cape Town was named World Design Capital 2014, the function of design itself was thrown into question. But many of the contradictions highlighted by the award were already being focused on by Cape Town’s brightest re-thinkers: designers who see contradictions as an opportunity for re-imagination, a chance for the city to create a new way of experiencing the world.
The Red Bulletin meets six Mother City brains who are re-imagining how the city sees itself.
Next up: The skaters Marco Morgan & Gerrit Strydom
With the rollclack of skateboarders echoing off the offramp bridge behind him Marco Morgan of the National Skate Collective Task Team points to the lower edge of Gardens, one of Cape Town’s more upmarket spaces. “This is prime real estate,” he says. “It’s in the city, it’s visible, which means skaters are no longer relegated to the shadows.”
Morgan is talking about the Mill Street Skate Park, situated under the freeway that empties from the suburbs into Cape Town’s City Bowl, nestled under Table Mountain. As Gerrit Strydom, a member of the City of Cape Town’s Information, Property and Facility Planning division as well as of the Skate Task Team, says, the location was “a dead space”, an unused area under a bridge, situated well but not being utilised at all.
When the City of Cape Town used a part of that space to erect a hub for the new public transport system, Morgan and Strydom saw an opportunity.
“Integrating skateboarding into other forms of transport is vitally important as people often use skateboards for travelling short distances, like to and from public transport interchanges,” says Strydom.
For Morgan, the skate park has another function: “This kind of interface will help break down the stigma people have about skaters and open up new doors for the growth and inclusion of skateboarding into the city.”
Morgan believes that skateboarders have developed a bad reputation in Cape Town due to bad planning. “Skaters were never considered when the city did its transport planning, and definitely were an afterthought when it planned its public spaces,” he explains. “The negative and un-informed perceptions fuelled the increase in No Skateboarding signage and generated even greater antagonism between skaters and authorities.”
Hopefully the Mill Street Skate Park can change all that: its high visibility is a key feature of the design so that passing traffic in and out of the City Bowl becomes used to the sight of skaters in the environment.
“In terms of good urban design, permeability of walls and fences is important as it serves a dual function: making all activities in the park visible while also securing the park and preventing skateboards from flying out into the road,” says Strydom.
The park has already won the Building Trust International Design Award, and encouraged councillors from other Cape Town suburbs to bring skate parks to their areas as well.
Says Morgan: “The skate park has already sparked a positive shift in approach to skateboarders and the provision of skate facilities.”
Looking back at the skaters shredding the circuit, he continues: “We need bold solutions to connect our city and overcome the physical and economic divides that still exist. I believe a network of parks and skate-friendly spaces, connected through the non-motorised transport system, is important in providing that solution.”