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Big upgrades coming to Mandela Bay

26 Aug 2009
Three multi-million rand urban renewal projects that will soon be implemented in the Mandela Bay area in the Eastern Cape.

This will see the region transformed into an entertainment, transport and business hub before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Mandela Bay consists of Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch.

Continuing the inner city revitalisation of Port Elizabeth that began two years ago with the conversion of Govan Mbeki Avenue, the city's main road, into a pedestrian precinct, and that of Parliament Street into a popular area for dining out, the municipality recently approved budgets for the upgrading of Strand Street, a major access route linking the CBD and the harbour; and the Donkin Reserve, a green space with stunning views. The historic Market Square in Uitenhage will also be rejuvenated.

Phase 1 of the Donkin Reserve upgrade has already begun, and work on the first phase of the Strand Street upgrade is expected to start next month. The upgrading of Market Square in Uitenhage is set to commence as soon as details of the proposal to showcase its historical importance and creating a community meeting space in the city have been finalised, according to Dorelle Sapere, planning and development manager of the MBDA. The agency's mandate is to implement urban renewal projects sanctioned and funded by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM), to serve as a catalyst for private sector investment.

Strand Street, which runs beneath the Settler's Way highway, not only links the CBD to the harbour, but is a major transport hub used by thousands of rail, taxi and bus commuters every day. It also acts as a pedestrian thoroughfare into Govan Mbeki Avenue. By rejuvenating Strand Street, which Sapere describes as "environmentally degraded", the municipality hopes to encourage private sector development in the area, especially in the side streets where there is currently little economic activity because of crime.

The first phase of the upgrade, to be carried out by Rand Civils, will include the redevelopment of adjoining Jetty Street. The Strand Street Consortium, the design team, has included the construction of a new stairway linking Vuyisile Mini Square, the central city's main square and the heart of its planned cultural precinct, to Jetty Street and the historic Campanile Tower at the entrance of the harbour. Opening up Strand Street will give the CBD more aesthetic appeal, allowing pedestrians who use the stairs a view of the harbour beyond. It will also let more natural light into the street, a design priority, as the area is currently very dark, being situated under the highway.

As part of the Jetty Street redevelopment, the deck above the Algoa long-distance bus terminus will be demolished, opening up the currently enclosed terminus to allow in more sunlight and fresh air, thereby providing a more pleasant environment for commuters. The removal of the deck will also allow pedestrian access from Strand Street to Vuyisile Mini Square.

In Strand Street, speed bumps will be introduced to slow down the chaotic pace of the traffic. Special areas will be created for taxis and buses to stop, making the road more pedestrian-friendly. Provision will be made for parking areas to replace those lost when Govan Mbeki Avenue was turned into a pedestrian precinct. Taxi Alley, another street that runs under the highway, will be also be improved.

In addition, the pavements in Strand Street will be upgraded to allow more room for pedestrians and safe road crossings provided. Trees will be planted, benches placed at strategic points on the pavements and lighting improved, as will security and cleaning, with the aim of making this a more tourist-friendly and safe location.

Street art will also form part of the finished design, with the Campanile Tower becoming the starting point of a new art tourism route called the Long Walk. Extending to the Donkin Reserve, the Long Walk will serve as an art gallery, showcasing the city's history and all its different cultures by means of murals and other street art along the entire route.

The Long Walk project will be undertaken as part of the first phase of the upgrading of the Donkin Reserve, the city's most famous landmark. The upgrade will comprise a total of 52 projects to be undertaken over the next few years. The R10m first phase will be restricted to the upper portions of the reserve, the area visited by tourists, and will include the repair and painting of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's cottage, which will be restored to resemble the original building as closely as possible.

Paving and landscaping work will also be done, including replanting the palm trees on the reserve to create an avenue near the cottage. Moving the trees will serve to increase the available green space so that events can be held there in 2010 and beyond. A cycad garden will be created in the green space.

A flagpole, of the same height as the Campanile Tower, will also be erected on the reserve, where different flags will be hoisted for celebrations such as Youth Day and Women's Day.

Sapere says that work on the Strand Street, Donkin Reserve and Uitenhage Market Square upgrades will be carried out simultaneously and will be completed before soccer-loving visitors are welcomed to the city in June 2010. – Impti du Toit

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