Stanford was indeed a vibey, vital village during July. A series of fascinating talks, pop-up dining experiences and musical evenings brought villagers and visitors together in cosy and creative ambience. There was much to be learnt from the talks – two of those that made a big impression dealt with the vitality and attractions of small towns and villages.
What draws visitors to a small village like Stanford? Or Fish Hoek? Kalk Bay? Simon’s Town? These small villages can boast about their exquisite views over bay or river, imposing fynbos-clad mountains closeby, pleasant outdoor weather most of the year and a variety of shops and good food/slow food restaurants. Stanford, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town can add their characterful historic buildings, Fish Hoek Main Road is unfortunately divorced from the town’s main asset, the beautiful and safe Fish Hoek beach, and it has also been spoilt by the bland, unimaginative buildings constructed in the ’50s and ’60s. Nonetheless, small changes can be made to even the most ‘average’ village to make it more picturesque, enticing and commercially viable.
A Village project
Although the following paragraphs pertain mainly to a suggested vision for Stanford, other towns and villages would benefit from the ideas set out in them.
Bernard Oberholzer, experienced Landscape Architect resident in Stanford and author of a book and articles on landscape and streetscape, has been working on a collaborative project with Stanford Tourism, Stanford Conservation Trust, Stanford Heritage Committee and the Stanford Ratepayers’ Association on an urban landscape design plan for the village. Concerns include the lack of public spaces and pedestrian facilities; narrow or non-existent sidewalks; the unattractive entrance to the village; too much space devoted to parking; inappropriate “street furniture” such as metal drum dustbins and street poles blocking sidewalks; heavy vehicle through-traffic and unoccupied buildings and bland frontages on Queen Victoria Street, the main thoroughfare of Stanford.
Referring to Queen Victoria Street as a “patchwork of shops, houses and vacant sites” with “blank walls and garage doors disrupting commercial continuity” and detracting from the aesthetic s, the project proposes the narrowing of Queen Victoria Street with the creation of wider pedestrian walkways and the converting of present open spaces and parking lots into friendly and pedestrian safe village squares – four in all. At the eastern end a welcoming square would include a Village Gateway providing a “sense of arrival” to the “Heritage Village” and the western most square incorporating part of the grounds of the NG Kerk. Bernard illustrated the concept with slides of the Durban City Centre Upgrade …
… in which he was involved and of a village square in Spain where, as in throughout Europe, the church could be regarded as the centrepiece of the public open space surrounding it.
One of Stanford’s major assets is the village green. Plans include linking the green to the proposed Village Square, currently the parking area at the Spar, and the proposed Market Square, outside the Information Centre. The project also proposes the holding of regular markets in these fixed spaces – currently the Wednesday and Saturday markets are somewhat nomadic! – and regular displays, festivals and musical interludes in the central village precinct.
The greening of Stanford being a major part of the plan, Bernard concluded his presentation with the comment that he hopes his legacy in Stanford “will be the planting of 1000 geraniums and 100 coral trees.”
Tackling the issue from a different angle
Harry Poortman, co-author on a book on Vital Villages and entrepreneur who has been involved in hotel management, PRO and a comprehensive Cultural Villages project in Europe, has been living near Stanford for a year with the vision of creating an eco-friendly , off the grid farm. He defined ‘culture’ as the way ‘in which people interact and care and said that Stanford has lots of culture but that it needs to be more focused.”
He posed a number of questions: “Who are we and what can we do? Are we more than a Cultural Historical Village? Do we create for the new generation or for ourselves?”
Elaborating on this, he said that “more of the same can be boring” and that we need to think about things differently. “To create change, forget the politicians or the financial institutions. They have developed a system when non-growth is possible.” Referring to empty buildings in the main street of the village, he said that in Europe buildings are not allowed to stand empty for more than six months. If buildings in Amsterdam are not tenanted within this period, they are used as temporary galleries for artists to display their work.
“One of the largest and most beautiful buildings in Stanford’s main street is ‘empty’ – nothing is happening. This should not be allowed. (The same point was made by Bernie and was greeted with much approval.) If a building is zoned for ‘business’ it should be governed by rules. There should also be rules pertaining to the types of businesses allowed on the main street. There should be a mix of businesses. Restaurants should provide menus that differ from others in the village or town.”
Further suggestions by Harry included:
* Having a ‘mayor’. Stanford needs a mayor so that change is created from the top down and bottom up. “Here it is only from the bottom up.”
*having the monthly Friday market in the Community Hall between ‘North Stanford’ and ‘South Stanford’ so that gradually the residents of South Stanford start participating too.
* Inviting people from the different groups that make up greater Stanford to become involved in a ‘kitchen training programme’ so that all can learn about the’ likes and dislikes’ of the people of varied cultures that make up the village and start to talk about “we” , not “us and them”
*Once a year closing off Queen Victoria Street and holding one big dinner with residents bringing food to share
* Creating collectives that do things together – like the successful ‘Winter in Stanford ‘programme
* Creating different spaces with different art
* Getting Stanford off the grid
* Creating a Poetry Walk
* Creating a communal vegetable garden
* Holding concerts and plays
He concluded that “we need passion, progress and to build for the new generation and not the old.”
I am excited by the vision for Stanford and glad that we have many residents with passion, imagination and drive to help make the vision a reality. One thing is certain, vital villages and towns need active citizens ….
These articles might inspire!
Visions for Fish Hoek: http://scenicsouth.co.za/2011/12/fish-hoeks-architecture-and-spirit-of-space/