New Brighton street transformed

One of three play areas in Singapi Street, New Brighton.
Picture: Brian Witbooi

Four-year upgrade of Singapi Street nears completion, with full input from the community

The upgrade of New Brighton’s Singapi Street is wrapping up after more than four years of construction, community engagement and dialogue.

Undertaken by architects SVA International – contracted by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) – the three-phase project will end in the second half of this year with the levelling of Singapi Street, which will ensure residents’ homes are no longer flooded after heavy rains.

SVA International’s Eastern Cape office head, Debbie Wintermeyer, said catering to the needs of residents had been paramount for the upgrade.

While some urban renewal projects focus on attracting tourists and investment from outside the community, SVA International ran a series of workshops and dialogue sessions to establish what mattered most to residents.

“We didn’t touch a thing until we had engaged with the people,” Wintermeyer said.

“The drive from the earliest stages was to include art, architecture and heritage in this project, and I believe that is something we have succeeded in.”

The street is now a place for all.
Picture: Brian Witbooi

As the public participation process kicked off for the project in 2013, the architectural team set about planning the various development phases, which included:

  • In 2014, the upgrade of the three parks along the street, pavements and business frontages kicked off.

It included the installation of pedestrian seating areas, the planting of trees and installing bollards;

  • In 2015, the upgrading of the road and installing of pedestrian safety features such as raised crossings, as well as play equipment in the parks – including a children’s road safety and athletic training equipment installations – was undertaken; and
  • The final phase of the project included the levelling of parts of the street which, due to its level in relation to residents’ homes, inhibited storm water reticulation and put the homes at risk of flooding.

“We introduced a pedestrian hierarchy to the street which had been lacking before,” Wintermeyer said.

Engaging Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) has also been an integral part of the project.

Although traditionally SMME involvement has been limited to the primary disciplines of brickwork and paving, she said the Singapi Street upgrade had entrusted broader duties to local business people, such as electrical work and civil work.

“We diversified the scope of work which SMMEs were involved with, and I believe this benefited the community by giving them exposure to these disciplines,” Wintermeyer said.

The parks also have athletic training equipment.
Picture: Brian Witbooi

She said residents had been heavily invested in what they required from the project.

“A project of this type, ambition and extended timeframe has not been without its challenges.

“These are characteristic of the challenges facing the construction industry and the country as a whole, including inclusiveness, representation, safety and vandalism.”

She described the quality of the public participation sessions at the start of the project as “mind blowing”.

“The community created real solutions and knew their needs. They were also very respectful and aware of their heritage,” Wintermeyer said.

According to fellow SVA International team member Ilse Danev, the value of good urban design manifested in understanding the community’s role within the broader cityscape.

One of the three new play areas in Singapi
Street, New Brighton.
Picture: Brian Witbooi

“In urban design, there is a golden thread that moves between infrastructure, people, the economy and the built form,” she said.

Danev said the importance of communities taking ownership of the urban renewal projects was paramount.

“Once you get the buy-in, residents take pride in the project and adopt is as their own. Without that buy-in, vandalism creeps in and undoes all that work.

“Here we have had an active community which has taken ownership of this upgrade.”

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