The Westbury NMT Framework is one of the first precinct interventions linked to the Empire/Perth Corridors of Freedom strategic area framework, which looks to significantly increase population densities, access to public transport and access to employment. Westbury is one of the poorest coloured townships in Johannesburg with formal unemployment rates well below the national average and major instances of drug abuse and domestic violence. The area has historically been neglected in government projects because coloured South Africans generally voted for the National Party, pre-democracy. Westbury’s close proximity to to the city centre has meant it was an area impossible to ignore as part of the Corridors of Freedom Project.
The main interventions in Westbury are infrastructure upgrades dedicated to improving pedestrian and cyclist safety in the township. For the most part, the project involved repairing sidewalks, introducing bollards to restrict vehicular movement to certain areas, benches, trees and the construction of cycle lanes. The project also included the design and construction of a small park in Westbury. The NMT links are intended to better connect people living in Westbury to BRT stations and other public transport routes on the perimeter of the township.
The commission was achieved through a public tender, which Local Studio won in collaboration with IYER Urban Design Studio. Local Studio’s proposal was chosen partially because of the significant research Thomas Chapman had conducted in Westbury in the past five years. The design process began with a master plan for the area which looked at the significant densification of buffer zones which surround the community on all sides, as well as the reconstruction of the social housing apartment complex at the centre of the township. In the vain of the work of Enrique Peñalosa in Colombia and others, Local Studio saw the NMT upgrades as a catalytic capital network that would allow for organic development at a variety of scales throughout the township.
The NMT links and the park were completed some time ago and are being used well in some areas and severely neglected in others. The biggest challenges of this project relate to the lack of urban management in areas like Westbury, for example, the grass in the parks is never cut, litter is seldom collected and contractors don’t honour the maintenance contracts for the street furniture, which often gets vandalised. In hindsight, Local Studio believes that it may have been preferable to have combined the cycle lanes and pedestrian walkways, as cycle lanes are very obviously empty most of the time, while there is a significant amount of pedestrian movement.