Doing something for the place where you live
There was live music and dancing, bicycle-riding lessons for children, pavement drawing, yoga, a green hub where people won prizes for answering questions about climate change, lots of socializing and plenty of fun – all absolutely free for everyone.
Organised by the non-profit organisation Open Streets Cape Town (OSCT) and headed by one of its co-founders and managing director, Marcela Guerrero Casas, this movement creates open or shared streets that bridge the social and spatial divides of cities and people.
‘There is something very powerful about doing something for the place where you live, regardless of your nationality,’ says Guerrero Casas who has a Masters in Public Administration and International Affairs from Syracuse University, New York. She has worked in policy and advocacy for over ten years.
With the WWF Nedbank Green Trust as one of the funders, OSCT is working towards being a catalyst for decreasing the city’s carbon footprint. On Open Streets Day only non-motorised transport, such as bicycles and skateboards are allowed in the prescribed area. It sets the stage for a paradigm shift in urban mobility, towards lower carbon transport options.
‘Although car use is limited to a minority of our city’s population, it accounts for over 85% of the emissions in Cape Town,’ explains Guerrero Casas who rides the talk. She lives in Cape Town’s CBD and her bicycle is her transport.
She and her team launched Open Streets in Cape Town in 2013 when the first Open Streets Day was held in Lower Main Road in the suburb of Observatory. Since then Open Streets Days have taken place in Langa, Belville, Mitchells Plain and the City Centre.
The Open Streets concept originated in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá in 1974 and has since gone global, with Open Streets programmes now being hosted in over 400 cities around the world.
‘In Colombia, where I come from, the Open Streets programme is called Ciclovía, which literally means “cycleway”,’ Guerrero Casas explains. ‘It was initially motivated by a group of cyclists and it is all about creating car-free routes for people to move freely and safely. It developed into a movement where people can freely come together to socialise and safely enjoy the streets.’
Today, Ciclovía is no longer an event, it’s an institution in Colombia, where on Sundays and public holidays in Bogotá, over 120kms of the city are turned into open streets; smaller cities open 50 – 70kms.
‘When I was younger, I well remember my father saying that he wouldn’t normally travel with me to certain parts of the city unless it is Ciclovía,’ Guerrero Casas continues. ‘Likewise in Cape Town, the Open Streets Days encourage people to discover other areas of the city that might be perceived as unwelcoming and unsafe, or they really are.
‘The Open Streets programme is therefore also about reoccupying public spaces and public transport to make them safe again.’
‘At the same time, OSCT invites people to think about what they can personally do to reduce their transport-related carbon emission footprint. It can start with a very small step, such as walking to the shop or deli around the corner, instead of driving, or taking the train, bus or public taxis to an Open Streets Day,’ Guerrero Casas explains.
‘To encourage more people to use public transport and embrace the Open Streets movement, we are partnering with the City of Cape Town to develop a city-wide Open Streets Days programme. At the same time we are being proactive about putting pressure on government to make public transport safer and user-friendly.
‘Together with WWF, we have developed a number of opportunities for people to experience public transport first hand, such as the AtoB Challenge.
Later in the year we will launch new campaigns that invite people to take an active role in the conversation about public transport in Cape Town.
‘As part of understanding commuter patterns, 100 participants in the Open Streets City Centre AtoB Challenge, were asked to document their travel movements in Travel Diaries for a week,’ says Guerrero Casas who aims to exponentially extend the kilometres currently permitted by the City of Cape town in Cape Town’s ongoing Open Streets Days.
‘Once we have a road map that works for Cape Town’s programme then we will also take it scale and share it with other South African cities. I still think we can change the world, by starting where we are to make a difference. The Open Streets movement’s phenomenal growth globally talks about the power of people coming together to make a difference.’