Sunday, January 20, 2008

Urban Renewal Update

I have realised that, on our Port Elizabeth Daily Photo Blog, I showed the work in progress on an upgrade of our city centre, in an Urban renewal project initiated by the Mandela Bay Development Agency, which is overseeing the revival of the city centre. But I forgot to give an update on the project, or feature the grand opening. I took photos, and somehow thought I had posted them, but apparently didn't! Very remiss of me because it took place in November last year...oooops! So to make good on that oversight, and at the same time to get up to speed on some exciting new initiatives, let's take a look at the revival of old PE.

I'll repeat what I wrote there, to give you the background on the project:

All cities go through cycles of growth and decay, and the centre of Port Elizabeth is no exception. Established in 1820, she grew rapidly and a bit haphazardly at first, to become, by the early 1900s, the South African port with the biggest exports. This was mainly because the diamond industry in Kimberley, and the Ostrich feather and mohair industries were all in their heyday, and used PE to export their goods.But as these waned, she was overtaken by other ports.
She became the centre of the South African motor industry, and boomed again for a while, but then fell on hard times in the 70s, when Ford relocated inland. Buildings started looking shabby, crime increased and suburban malls were developed. Decentralisation took place, and the old city centre became a place few residents would visit.
This is now changing, we are taking our city centre back from the criminals, and the town council is making serious efforts to rejuvenate the area, by diverting traffic and creating a pedestrian area full of market stalls, sidewalk cafes etc, with strict policing to make criminals unwelcome in the area.

Well here are the preparations for the street festival which was the grand opening for the upgraded City Centre.........

Building equipment still frantically completing last minute paving etc is moved to a nearby street, as the project was to continue further down the street after the opening.

A temporary bandstand was set up on Market square, next to the beautiful old City Hall building, and musicians were checking sound while we were there, so we got a cool concert preview!

and ta-rah... HERE IT IS. The new super dooper pedestrian mall leading down the main street in the city centre (Govan Mbeki Ave), with unique prototype vendors stalls which provide shade and lock up facilities for vendors, so that they don't have to schlep their goods back and forth.
Well done PEM and MBDA, we look forward to Phase 2!
Another exciting Project was announced last week. I frequently lament the run down state of so many of our historic buildings, especially those owned by Irish slum lord Ken Denton. However, he is not the only culprit, one of the really sad things has been to see the Municipality let one of its own properties degenerate into a filthy mess. I refer to the lovely old PE Tramways building in the Baakens River Valley. (To see some of the lovely old brickwork on this building, take a close look at the top of the gable in this photo)

If this interests you and you REALLY want to see the current disgusting state of this old treasure, check out this article on the very informative MyPE website.

Anyway here she is at the moment, taken from the St Marys graveyard at sunrise. The good news is that she is about to get a much needed facelift. It was announced last week that the Municipality has awarded Pambili Developments the tender to redevelop the Tramways building. The development will contain a mix of tourism, leisure, entertainment and office space, with construction due to begin in April 2008. The Tramways redevelopment project will be managed by Mandela Bay Development Agency which was also responsible for the Market Square and Govan Mbeki Avenue upgrade.

You know I can't resist vintage photos, here is the Baakens River Mouth and the tramways building taken in 1865, when the river still formed a natural lagoon at the mouth. The Tramways Building is on the point where the bank juts into the river and the road does a dog leg to the right of the photo. (Sorry about the horrible quality, it was a photo of a photo that appeared in the Herald Newspaper today.)

And here it is in the late 1800s after the river had been channeled into a canal, to the left of the building (Tramways is the one with the 3 belching chimneys!)
As a comparison, here are two from a similar viewpoint at Fort Frederick, one taken in the late 19th century, and the other a couple of months ago.

However, there is an issue here, the Baakens may look like a dried up insipid little river, and to be honest, most of the time, it is! (Even stagnant and smelly to tell the truth!) But it has a nasty habit of coming down in flood at fairly regular intervals. And the Tramways Building usually bears the brunt of it, being right on the bank of the inadequate canal through which it flows. Obviously this is a major concern for anyone who is thinking of spending a 100 million on an upgrade of the building!

This is a famous photo of a major flood in the Baakens River, in 1908, when this mule ended up on a roof! You can see the Tramways building on the top right of the picture, with water washing through it.

As recently as August 2006, the river flooded again, this torrent was the road leading past the Tramways Building, as you can see the street lights which are normally on the centre island are now in the river!

The road was completely washed away, and it is a major project to replace the bridge, so for now, it is still blocked off, and a detour takes you around the hole in the road.

Given all this, it is good news to hear that a project is being considered, which will remove the canal, dam up the river to create a natural lake, and establish it with indigenous plants and waterlife to produce a balanced ecosystem. This will tend to absorb much of the impact of future floods, as well as creating a pleasant environment around the revamped building. Let's hope this plan gets off the ground soon. It is exciting to see that people are at last waking up and entertaining these visionary ideas, and actually beginning to implement some of them. Watch this space!!


dot said...

Interesting post! I tried to click on the last 3 pictues to enlarge them but nothing happened. I wonder why.

imac said...

This is an interesting post with great photos of old and new.

See wot Terence the Tramps upto

Old Wom Tigley said...

Great post, made great reading and the picture are great. Loved the old ones.

Pule said...

HI Sam, please let me know if I can use your photos on in the South African forum. In that forum we discuss Urban Renewal, we showcase and discuss new highrise developments, developments on public transport, we show progress of 2010 stadium etc.

Please visit the South African forum on this URL

Thanks for marvelous photos. Thanks again for visit my Johannesburg Daily photo blog.