Mmegi Online :: The planning history of Gaborone
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Last Updated
Friday 16 November 2018, 11:44 am.
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The planning history of Gaborone

It is well known for readers today, as writers like Sandy Grant and others have told you, that the site for the new capital was chosen primarily because of the availability of water supply from a suitable dam site (and of course, land belonging to a very humble and understanding tribe). Plus, it was situated along the railway line with a “refreshment” hotel, well known to travelers for many years (and also planners, engineers and others involved – small things like this have a bearing to decisions, believe me).
By Correspondent Fri 28 Nov 2014, 17:18 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: The planning history of Gaborone








So, the decision to place the new administrative centre for an independent Botswana was made at Protectorate Headquarters in Mafeking in the early 60’s. Who were the planners? Well, as far as I know from old UK friends at the former Department of Surveys and Lands (S&L), UK planners from Harare and Pretoria made up a team at Public Works in Mafiking in 1962.

They found themselves in a rush – my first picture from Gaborone in 1963 (pic 1) is indicating the clearing of roads – I love this photo but I guess people will need a magnifying glass to see the first construction steps.  

If you have sharp eyes, you will find a golf course close to the then existing air strip – so it is true that when two Brits meet in one of the colonies, the first thing to construct is a golf course! But, jokes aside, here I must be specific about the conceptual approach from the planners.

Another interesting illustration I have in my files is from our National Archives and is an early attempt by the planners to introduce a typical, well reflected Garden City layout for Gaborone (pic 2), restricted in growth to about 25, 000 people:  As I said, the planners were mostly UK expats from Harare and Pretoria. Putting a limit on the growth of a garden city or new town was not a problem, conceptually, to them. And the Terms of Reference (ToR) or orders clearly indicated “a small administrative place for the government” – nothing big or with expansion possibilities. Consequently, there is no fully fledged industrial area but rather, an area for construction companies and the necessary maintenance plants. But I also heard from my old UK friends at S&L that some of them were frustrated by this standing order.

Hence, I have always been reluctant to blame the early planners for the problems we have today – it is unfair to point fingers and blame our current problems on them.

Yes, the problems came later and are due to  the  negligence of later planners! If you look at Gaborone by 1975 you will understand  (pic 3- it’s a bit eaten by termites and I find this amusing). Since there was no apartheid control of in-migrating people, Gaborone grew unrestricted, primarily with the squatter area called “Old Naledi”, later upgraded to a legal area (a possibility totally forgotten by planners today as some flexibility and proper field surveys are needed).

Although the 1975 photo indicates that plans have been extended towards Broadhurst (a conceptual incongruence to the “garden city” plan from 1963), we clearly see the features of the envisaged first plan (as well as the alternative also illustrated):  walk-able neighborhood units with their own schools and small commercial centers  curved roads, slow traffic with circles or roundabouts – a lovely small town as I met it in 1979 when I arrived to prepare extension plans, in accordance to a newly approved growth study done by my predecessors.

Even the old UK planners had clearly pointed out that if the need for a more industrialised town ever arose, more satellite “garden cities” should be planned at a distance from Gaborone with proper public transit connecting them.

By 1979, we still had a town with visual landmarks and a definite identity of its own and visited by planners and admired – not the least for the first President SSK’s social democratic concept of having “income-mixed” development areas (as for traditional Tswana towns). Well, this concept confused most new neo-liberals and conservative planners with hollow McPlanning background. But we had it! And in line with SSK’s instructions - a “landmark” by itself!

When I’m asked to identify the reason why things fell apart for Gaborone, I always refer to the Growth Study of 1978 by the planners at Town and Regional Planning (expats). The conclusions (expansion alternatives West, North, North-West or Villages) without reflecting on the inbuilt restrictions on the then existing town are shocking but accepted by the decision-makers then. Of course we have now ended up with all the alternatives implemented simultaneously. And these problems were never foreseen by the authors of the study. Ignorance!

Not a single word about traffic problems or the feasible alternative: a Gaborone region, well balanced and served by proper public transport. Now, in a situation with less and less money available, some urban designers are hoping for a re-construction of the City – well needed but who pays? New landmarks – who pays for them in a contracting economy?

We will finally have a look at Gaborone 1997 – 2021 as the planners envisage it (pic 4). It is well-known that even highly professionals, when accepting so called Terms of Reference must follow this (written) plan and come up with a coloured map that satisfy the rather inexperienced, young government planners that made the ToR.

I know that the planners of this unrealistic long term plan for Gaborone 2021 are highly qualified professionals:

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So why is this document plastering the walls of GCC and government offices? When it was a possibility to start a concept of more “independent” satellites or new towns?

Because we “free market” planners must follow instructions of their juniors in the bureaucracy. That’s the most adequate answer I can give you. At least the first planners followed accepted professional practices of the time that were never understood by modern, historically uneducated planners. And that created the mess we now have. What can we do?

Firstly, we have to get rid of the naive rules and regulations that my junior colleagues in the trade came up with once upon a time. They are outdated! For instance – Urban Development Standards, Development Control Code and various building regulations.

They are not hurdles to jump for professionals – they are solid walls to break your head on! It is the simple two-variables thinking (as Jane Jacobs once called it) that is the base for the bureaucratic planning of today and it will never result in anything attractive to investors or to ourselves.

Secondly, what should be done (if we will have money for improving our City)?

Much has happened in the town planning and urban design field since the early 1990’s. In the US, some architects/planners realized that the conventional US sprawling suburb with car-based strip malls and lack of public transport (as with us) wasn’t a functional concept for human life.

Apart from this lack of living quality, it was also aesthetically lugubrious and unworthy respect. Some leading professionals came together and started the Council of New Urbanism, propagating for “wholeness” in our living surroundings. Their core beliefs were (in short):

The basing building block of a community is the neighbourhood;

The neighbourhood must be limited in physical size, with a well-defined edge and a centre. The size of a neighbourhood should be based on the distance that a person can walk in five minutes from the centre to the edge – ab. 400 m. Neighbourhoods shall have a fine-grained mix of land uses, providing opportunities for young and old to find places to live, shop and be entertained;

Corridors form the boundaries between neighbourhoods – both both connecting and defining the area. Corridors can incorporate natural features such as streams and canyons.

They might take form of parks, natural preserves, travel paths, railroad lines, major roads or combination of all these;

Human scale sets the proportion in buildings. Buildings must be disciplined in how they relate to their plots if public space is to be successfully demarcated. As the street is a preeminent form of public space, buildings are generally expected to honour and embellish the street;

Providing a range of transportation options is fundamental. For most of the second half of the 20th century, transportation agencies focused almost exclusively on optimizing the convenience of automobile travel, and dealt with transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists as little more than afterthoughts.

We must give equal consideration to all modes of transportation to relieve congestion and to provide people with useful, realistic choices;

The street pattern is conceived as a network, to create the greatest number of alternative routes from one part of the neighbourhood to another. This has the effect of providing choices and relieving vehicular congestion. The streets form a hierarchy, from broad boulevards to narrow lanes and alleys;

Civic buildings, (town halls, churches, schools, libraries, museums etc) belong on preferred sites such as squares or neighbourhood centres or where the view down a street terminates. Such placement helps turn civic buildings into landmarks and reinforces their symbolic and cultural importance.

Quite a few good thumb rules in just 7 points from the New Urbanism! It should be noted that “neighbourhood” is used widely, for more than housing areas, as we do.

If we could agree on a list like this (with relevant local concepts) and having all important developments scrutinized by a kind of Urban Aesthetic Council, as in most capitals and cities around the world (for

more of this –see my column in the latest Boidus Focus or read my blog). With such a qualitative list, I guess we will take an important step towards a City to be proud of at the next jubilee.

As something of this list was “in the air” when Gab/West was planned in detail (1981-87), we know as planners that they are easy to follow.

BUT – not easy to understand by laymen, elected councillors!

Gab/West Phase 1 had “mixing elements” as the list is stating. At places with good access for external traffic, a number of MP-plots were indicated. MP meant “multi-purpose” and final use determined by Council and allocating Dept of Lands. We meant –anything of public interest goes!

However – we all of a sudden were trashed by the (then) Town Councillors – “Why do you give MP’s (Members of Parliament) plots but not Councillors!?

I think I end my essay here, thank you!

 

*Jan Wareus has 30 years town planning experience in Gaborone and another 15 in Stockholm, Sweden

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