Sophiatown NMT Framework

The Sophiatown NMT framework continues the NMT links from the Westbury framework. Historically, Sophiatown and Westbury were disparate areas with huge differences in income, reinforced by the industrial and open space buffer zones on the main road. The new link makes it very easy for pedestrians and cyclists to cross buffer zones and the main road and to access amenities in Sophiatown, such as shopping centres and clinics, which are much better maintained and serviced than in Westbury. The framework also continues east, making access to the high street of neighbouring Westdene easier, and the network terminates at Westdene Dam in a public promenade.

Initially, the route over Westdene Dam was intended to be a one metre pedestrian walkway along the dam and a two metre cycle lane on the tarmac. Local Studio convinced the client and the engineers to combine the two lanes and decrease the roadway to create a five metre promenade. Historically, the dam is a place of great sadness for the community because of an accident that happened in the 1980s, which saw a school bus crash through the barrier, into the dam, and most of the children on board died. The new promenade will hopefully create a place for contemplation for locals who until this moment didn’t have a space for this at the dam.

The commission was achieved through a public tender which Local Studio won in collaboration with IYER Urban Design Studio and is an extension of the NMT project in Westbury. The design process involved very simple interventions, mainly looking to create pedestrian public space where previously there was none. As with Westbury, Local Studio looked to use a single colour brick paver to code this intervention. In the vein 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 project also involved repairing sidewalks, introducing bollards to restrict vehicular movement to certain areas, benches and trees.

This project is very similar to the Westbury NMT framework, however considering the extremely different demographics of the community, there is far more civil engagement and thus more ownership and maintenance of the spaces. Main challenges of this project involve the limited use of the cycle lanes, which will hopefully change as more lanes get added to the network, making it more viable to cycle. 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.

Client: Johannesburg Development Agency