The Foreshore and a walkable CTICC

The recent headline that Cape Town is to double the size of its Convention Centre reminded me of a recent trip to the Design Indaba and the hair-raising, and dangerous, crossing which hundreds of visitors to the Centre were forced to make across Lower Heerengracht on the way from parking to the centre. The poorly thought through walking access on the streets outside the CTICC stood in stark contrast to the South African creativity on show inside it. Public spaces like those on our Foreshore are both unfamiliar, unwelcoming and unsettling. Access routes which welcome international visitors to the CTICC will be something that the new Convention Centre management will be forced to apply its mind to. I would love to see some of the creative thinking that went into the Stadium access also be applied to the CTICC. This aerial mock-up shows just how close the CTICC is to vast tracts of land in the Eastern Foreshore where there is lots of space for parking. Better still the CTICC is, surprisingly, on the doorstep of the station. It just appears further because pedestrian access between the two has been at best ad-hoc, and at worst neglected completely. The CTICC development provides an opportunity to really implement some “liveable” streets design in the Foreshore and to give pedestrian accessibility in the City the priority it deserves.

 

Engineering, roads and public participation: “It’s technical….not political”

Engineering, roads and public participation: “It’s technical….not political”

There’s a picture which will stay in my mind long after the Wynberg public participation meeting on the proposed phase 2a BRT scheme meeting is forgotten. It’s the faces of City engineers looking, frankly, baffled. Like George Bush caught reading children’s stories while the twin towers collapsed many of the City engineers were caught off-guard reading the wrong script and wondering “how on earth did I end up here?” The public feedback was frequently jeering, bitter and highly critical of the engineers (“Hogwash!” “It feels so unprofessional”). The awkward moves of the engineers to deflect criticism (“This is not a political meeting…it’s technical!”) were met with scornful laughter and resentment at their apparent ignorance.
The audience had it really wrong about engineers and engineering. And really right.
First the wrong part. Engineers are not, by and large, stupid. An engineering degree is one of the most difficult university programmes to enter. Engineering students are universally derided for being hardworking nerds and the benchmarks for graduating are high. Engineers are then, by any standards, pretty bright. Also, engineers tend not to be the mean-spirited despots portrayed by the public. Many engineers enter the profession because they want to see good in the world. They are practical people often disenchanted with lack of material progress for humankind. I’ve been surprised at how many City of Cape Town engineers continue to work in a frustrating bureaucracy because they still secretly harbour some genuine wish to serve the public.
Then again.
The same university and professional education processes nurturing bright minds also generate much political, historical and social ignorance in the pursuit of engineering efficiency. Much of the undergraduate engineering education purposefully ignores historical context (and with it community memory and pain). And so an engineer can claim in a public meeting in Wynberg, with no sense of irony or cruelty, that a road scheme planned during apartheid is as valid today as it was then. In the traditional engineering paradigm “a road is a road” and a road, it has been taught, is a matter of efficient movement of people and vehicles. The road has little other meaning. In the engineering mindset if the road was “technically” valid in 1952, it is valid now. Educated to trust in their own pure objectivity a traffic engineer can publically state, without blushing, that a meeting to discuss a highly contested route, requiring relocation of families, affecting notable heritage sites and substantially impacting on a key business node of the City is not a political matter.
I am really encouraged, then, by a relatively new offering in the Engineering and Built Environment Faculty at UCT called “Social Infrastructures: Engaging with Communities for Change” acknowledging that development is a socio-technical process….shaped by the institutional and political context.” Let’s hope that as the BRT rolls out the engineers become much less baffled and much more savvy about power, pain and politics.

PhD Starting out – “the space”

PhD Starting out – “the space”

(The first in a series of posts baring some hard-won lessons about being a PhD student, freelance worker and mom)

Source: pixabay.com
Source: pixabay.com

For the first year of my PhD I worked in a space which we called the “office” but which was, in practice, the dumping ground for the detritus of family life. When Brett and Hannah were at school I would sweep the piles of school notices, invoices, junk mail and post to one side and try to ignore it while poring over my books. When the children came home I would relocate (after the biscuit sharing, story listening and homework guiding) with my pile of readings to bedroom or local coffee shops. I quite liked the arrangement. The commute to the “office” took, well, thirty seconds and working in coffee shops helped me to feel like a grown-up again. While I was in an intense reading stage this ad-hoc desk appropriation was feasible. It worked less well once I started accumulating photocopies of archive materials and the readings numbered more than fifty. There came a time when I needed more…and once I had experienced that “room of my own”, I wished I had taken the step of creating it much, much earlier.

If you are serious about your PhD you need space. You need a room to call your own. Two reasons. First, you will be accumulating a lot of stuff. Even with the electronic storage facilities available you are unlikely to get away with less than a couple of bookshelves of materials. I ended up with a filing cabinet and three shelving units worth. It’s hard to fit that in around the Lego box and the Barbies. Secondly, it’s impossible to focus when your kids are anywhere near earshot. We just aren’t wired to ignore our children. Being out of earshot was necessary for depth, which is necessary for the PhD.

Of course, creating space is not always easy. We solved it by building (quite literally) a shed in a flower bed in the garden. It was small, only just big enough, but once insulated, and painted and kitted out it was perfect. A haven. Most importantly it was separate and it was mine. The paintings, the notices about hotdogs, the final demands for school payments, all of these stayed in the home. When I walked into my PhD space it was all about my writing.

Also importantly, I could leave things mid-process on the study desk when I needed to walk away. On the last day of term I would turn my back on my studies and then come back again two weeks later and (bliss!) it was all perfectly, delightfully where I left it. A little dusty perhaps, but untouched by human hands. In terms of productivity, and sanity, this was huge.

Holidays, waves and PhDs

Holidays, waves and PhDs

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For many it’s the time of year for rest and holiday. A time to forget about studies? I would say yes. Remove yourself from the desk and discipline and put it all on the back burner while you do something completely different. Or nothing at all. Let it lie fallow. In my experience these breaks are as important as the ‘productive’ times for helping clarity and insight. What happens, though, if PhD inspiration strikes mid-beach, mid-family gathering, mid-‘break’? Should you ‘ride the wave’ of creativity, or let it pass and hope it comes back? A story that may help.

I have a friend who ran a very successful creative business employing women making beautiful home ware and jewelry from waste. Really, it was stunning. She also had two children who were young when she started up the business from scratch. She was a keen cook (in fact had run a restaurant of her own) and delighted in providing family meals for them all to feast on each evening. What happened, then, I was curious to know, when inspiration struck? Did she feel the same frustration as I did then at having to stop mid-flow and go cook? She looked at me, aghast. I waited for her (the culinary Superwoman) to blast me about the absolute necessity of putting a fine meal on the table each day so that the family unit could stay united. “So what happens?!” She squealed. “They eat porridge! If I am riding ‘the wave’ [of creativity] I am NOT going to jump off!”

These ‘waves’ of creativity, she taught me, are powerful gifts that need to be ridden regardless of what else is going on around. Would the surfer ask the wave to come back a little later when it’s more convenient?! No! Why should we? Instead, when the wave comes, then hop on, say “thank-you”, enjoy the ride. In practice this means taking one of those notebooks wherever you go and if possible excusing yourself from whatever is happening for as long as it takes to record the insight. As soon as this is done then your mind can let it go and get back to ‘relaxing’. Or whatever!

Any thoughts about managing inspiration?