In search of better urban waterways

The Liveable Urban Waterways co-designing workshop brought residents, engineers and landscaping architects together at the Alphen Centre on Thursday September 1 to discuss a new future for urban waterways.

“Rivers are areas of multiple use with different competing needs for the space. To better manage the rivers and understand how they are used, we need the input of local people,” says Ian Neilson, chairman of the City’s water and sanitation portfolio committee.

He was speaking at a Liveable Urban Waterways (LUW) programme co-design workshop, at the Alphen Centre in Constantia on Thursday September 1.

The workshop brought residents, engineers and landscaping architects together to discuss a new future for the Spaanschemat, Prinskasteel and Grootboschkloof rivers

An earlier workshop, for the Westlake River, was held in the AOG Restoration Centre on Saturday August 27.

The LUW programme will focus on waterway rehabilitation projects along the Grootboschkloof, Keyser’s, Spaanschemat, Prinskasteel and Westlake rivers, as well as the Sand and Langevlei canals in the Constantia, Steenberg, Tokai, Westlake, Westlake Village, Retreat and Coniston Park areas.

Residents comments and ideas were jotted down on flip-charts and rated or prioritised. They outlined design concepts and simulated their own ideal reality with recyclable materials.

A call was made for greater communication between City departments responsible for maintenance and management of the waterways.

Some residents accused the authorities of working in silos, causing delays when it came to doing repairs and upgrades on properties surrounding the waterways.

Seasonal flooding, sewage overflows and pollution were some of the other concerns raised in discussions.

Maintaining the restorative benefits of the green belts and preserving biodiversity were ranked as key priorities by residents.

“Urban waterways can be a place where people, forest and the fynbos meet and it can be done in a very beautiful way, combining the river and open closed and shaded spaces,” said Oakridge resident Paddy Attwell.

However some said too little balance was struck between human needs and biodiversity needs.

“I get completely why there is a very big focus on biodiversity, but we live in a city and cities are human spaces,” said Nicky Schmidt, chairwoman of non-profit Parkscape. “If these urban waterways are not liveable spaces, people will not value or respect them.”

“What I am seeing is a focus that is one-sided. Cities need their people to be healthy, they need to be psychologically and physically healthy for those cities to be productive spaces. One needs to be marry environment, social, economic together as a whole in a city environment. I am not seeing the space for people.”

Sarah Hetherington, a Tokai Riding District Association committee member, cautioned against the kind of development that saw the tarring of the horse trail near the M3 that made it difficult for horse riders to use and allow groups of cyclists to pass them.

“River pathways have become like highways for pedestrians, dog walkers, horses and now cyclists. It is very important to encourage appropriate development of multi-user trails along the river systems to make them safer for everyone.”

Residents pour over a map before creating a 3D model with recyclable materials of what a better reality for the three waterways looks like.