Inner-city neighbourhoods : the design and management for future liveable cities - a case study of Albert Park, eThekwini.
Jaya, Tafadzwa Theophelous.
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Albert Park is an inner-city neighbourhood located within the Central Business District (CBD) of eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality in Durban. It is an area of great significance within Durban’s urban fabric because it contains in a small space many of the development challenges faced by large urban centres in Africa and world-wide. As a neighbourhood in decline Albert Park presents a unique opportunity for research based case study and the development of new planning tools and approaches. Albert Park provides an opportunity to consider urban change in the central city core and its impact on surrounding neighbourhoods. This can be examined from a number of perspectives. Firstly, Albert Park can be examined within the context of statutory change where the repealing of different Apartheid laws and the impact this had on the city’s spatial structure and demographic transition of the CBD is demonstrated in the urban fabric. Secondly, the location of Albert Park in close proximity to the harbour and the multiple activities along it, have both determined the roles played by this neighbourhood over time, and have also impacted negatively upon it. Once a sought after residential location, Albert Park has under the pressure of increasing land use change and the spread of the city core declined and is considered in need of planning strategies to address its urban and functional decay. Thirdly, there is a hidden potential that this inner-city neighbourhood has, to be one of the Durban’s most vibrant, attractive and most sought after places to live work and play. All of these aspects are considered in the dissertation. Sadly today, while Albert Park may be home to approximately nineteen thousand people (Census, 2011), it has gained a negative reputation. This has been critically analysed in the research together with the perspective that as a first choice of residence Albert Park may not been an optimal location. So why do people choose to reside in this neighbourhood? Is this decision only the result of very difficult and pressing circumstances? Or are there opportunities along with the challenges, what make this neighbourhood preferable? Today Albert Park is often associated with high levels of criminal activity, drugs, prostitution and more recently the stage for xenophobic conflict. The multiple dilapidated buildings, increasing informality and poor maintenance of the public realm causes it to be relegated to a status of decay which gives it negative identity with the general public. Albert Park is viewed as being a negative place to be – an area where one ‘enters at your own risk’ within the city of eThekwini. This is confirmed through some of the research findings that showed how a number of residents of the area do not feel safe and as a result are not actively involved in local recreational community activities within Albert Park. By unpacking the concept of the neighbourhood in the context of inner-cities, the research considers the neighbourhood as a system in itself as well as part of a greater system. Various theories that conceptualise neighbourhoods as well as inform their design and management are also reviewed as part of the conceptual and theoretical framework. With this understanding, the research also critically evaluates the causes of inner urban decay and considers alternative strategies for how to address this process and encourage regeneration strategies. Jacobs (1961; 122) was quoted to have said that, “A successful city neighbourhood is a place that keeps sufficiently abreast of its problems so it is not destroyed by them.” When considering Albert Park in its state, it is evident that it is a place within the city that has failed to stay abreast of its problems and is arguably being destroyed by them. However, in today’s modern fast paced urbanising and globally connected cities, the cause of the challenges and problems that neighbourhoods experience are growing and are more diverse than ever. This research has attempted to unpack and understand some of the challenges that metropolitan and larger cities face which contributes to the decline of their inner neighbourhoods. The methodology employed in the research process is essentially qualitative in nature although the findings have been augmented by a small quantitative survey with residents in the Albert Park neighbourhood to ascertain their perspectives on their neighbourhood. The dissertation presents a different analysis of the case study area by using applied theoretical perspectives and concepts and then building a set of principles and criteria that can guide and inform design and management processes aimed at the regeneration of Albert Park. It is argued by the research that Albert Park presents a microcosm of the key planning and development challenges found in inner city neighbourhoods in South Africa and other international cities. It analyses these similarities and presents a set of recommendations which can be applied to other inner-city neighbourhoods in South Africa, primarily highlighting the need for more focused pro-active local area planning and the seamless incorporation of urban design principles, supported by good neighbourhood management strategies as a means of addressing reconstruction and the creation of vibrant and liveable inner-city neighbourhoods.