Cape Town’s citizens vote on the streets

When the Open Streets event was finally confirmed for Saturday 26 October, we knew that it would be a good opportunity to get our Your City Idea installation (YCI) – now officially a World Design Capital, Cape Town 2014 project – onto the streets of Observatory (Lower Main Road, a 900m stretch closed to cars and opened to the public), where the event was planned to take place. The Your City Idea (YCI) installation was always intended as a way to engage citizens in public spaces, and having previously appeared at a bus station, a public square and several indoor venues, a street opened up to the public seemed like an idea location.

Come Saturday, just before 1PM we were all set.

Location, location, location

While the sun was out, the wind in Cape Town had an idea of its own. After some discussion with the sponsor and setup team of YCI including Liam Beattie, Director of HOTT3 Dimensional Marketing, it was decided that while a space in the centre of the street would be ideal it would have to be placed on the pavement under cover of a local music store.

While not ideal, the traffic into the music store worked in our favour, as curious music-lovers were met with YCI at the entrance, and the overhead cover meant that engaging with citizens was slightly easier without the wind howling down the street. On the other hand, the music at the store meant we had to raise our voices, making communication slightly strained.

The public response

One of the key aims of the installation is the opportunity to engage citizens on urban issues, and so the response by the public to the strange yellow structure and the urban issues at hand is always important to monitor and record as far as possible. The success of Open Streets meant that YCI attracted a diverse group of people from across the city, and across the age spectrum. This of course made the outcome of the vote more interesting, with approximately 350 votes collected – more than double the votes collected previously at Church Square.

As with other appearances, some citizens were not happy with the options presented, and believed that additional options were needed. It also became clear throughout the day that many felt the question pertaining to the future of the Foreshore Freeways was a much easier decision, compared to the question which posted four options to potential community and housing design. This is possibly due to the fact that people could better relate to housing than a new vision for foreshore freeways.

Moreover, most of the people were confused by the question: “was it aspirational or future reality?”, in other words “do they have to choose the situation which will most probably happen in a short-/long-term future or do they have to chose the situation they will like the most to happen?”

Finally, regarding the future communities (the second question), we can notice that the results were quite predictable due to the obvious caricatural nature of the images. Therefore, it was difficult to not try to influence the participants in their choice.

Getting better

As with any project, it is always important to improve. One idea going forward would be to add descriptions on the four options presented on each side as an education tool, and as a means of lowering the challenge that the team have in engaging with many people in a high foot-traffic area.

Some minor improvements could include a more open and accessible location that is not impeded by loud noise; more than two Future Cape Town representatives manning the installation at any one time for ease of engagement with the public; and a more realistic variety of images that better describe the concept of communities through housing. A small Future Cape Town brochure could easily answer some frequently asked questions such as, “What is the purpose of the installation?”, “Who is Future Cape Town?”, “What are our objectives?” along with contact information and how people can get involved.


As succinctly captured by Michellene Williams in a previous article about YCI: “public space has once again become one of the most politically contentious issues in cities worldwide. Protesting and riots have erupted from Istanbul to Sao Paulo primarily due to the lack of consultation efforts by city authorities on service delivery and urban planning in public spaces…by providing the means to engage, and actively engage, initiatives like Your City Idea

will allow individuals and communities at least a conscious foothold into voicing the way their city is metamorphosing towards the urban future.”

The outcome

Question 1:
In your Future Cape Town, our communities look like?

The ’Suburbia meets the city’ voting option attracted a significantly high number of votes at 71%, whereas the highest recorded vote for this option was 69% in April 2013. This clearly demonstrates a growing trend of citizens’ public awareness in relation to Cape Town’s need to establish sustainable communities through mixed developments.There was a clear move away from high-rise developments, ‘The compact‘ with a common agreement that developments of this kind led to isolation and social issues. The surprising trend was the fact that most voters for the ‘Suburbia – American dream’ were women and families showing a preference for a safe and private play area for children.

Question 2:
In your Future Cape Town, the Foreshore freeways look like?

The result for the future of Foreshore Freeways was surprising this October. The ‘Activate the space‘ option  has never previously attracted this percentage of votes, only previously attracting 8% in May 2013 compared to 48% of the vote at the 26 October Open Street Cape Town event. This clearly shows the public’s desire for a more vibrant and welcoming space rather than a hostile, vacant and industrial environment below the freeways. A continued strong vote for the ‘Demolish and reconnect’ option is consistent with previous Your City Idea installations.

About Your City Idea

Your City Idea was conceived by Rashiq Fataar, Director of Future Cape Town and designed in collaboration with Liam Beattie, Director of HOTT3 Dimensional Marketing in May 2012. The installation is designed as an exaggerated ballot box, giving citzens an opportunity to vote on two urban issues. Currently, two questions relevant to Cape Town’s current urban context are placed on the ballot box: The first question was: “In you Future Cape Town, our communities will look like?”. The second question asks citizens to decide on a possible future for Cape Town’s raised and partially incomplete Foreshore Freeways.

About Open Streets

Open Streets is a citizen-driven initiative, working to change how streets are used, perceived and experienc
ed. Inspired by Bogota’s Ciclovia (a temporary network of car-free areas and routes throughout the City), Open Streets Cape Town was founded in 2012 by a group of volunteers committed to a more equitable, integrated, safer and vibrant city.


Future Cape Town is part of Our Future Cities NPO which is an independent nonprofit organisation committed to building a democracy around the future of cities. The network is made up of Future Cape Town, which is the founding movement and base, along with Future JohannesburgFuture Lagos and Future London.


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