I spend a fair amount of time in the recliner these days, keeping my feet up and either ice or heat on my hip, whichever seems to promise relief at the time (see the previous blog if you’re wondering why). While reared back and looking through pictures on my mobile phone, I recalled a couple of blog thoughts I’d had while in South Africa. Here’s one of them …

An unfinished section of the Foreshores Freeway has become a Cape Town landmark.

An unfinished section of the Foreshores Freeway has become a Cape Town landmark.

Look out one window of the Tsongo Sun Waterfront Hotel in Capetown, and you’ll notice the end of an unfinished freeway standing lone above the surrounding streets and buildings. Look out a window on the other side, and you can see a section of freeway it was supposed to have connected to, but never did.

A part of the “Foreshores Freeway,” the road project was begun in the 1970s as part of an ambitious project to connect the harbor and improve traffic flow through Cape Town, but apparently someone in the planning department forgot to get clearance from the owner of a longstanding coffee shop that stood in the way. He refused to sell, and stalled the entire project. The coffee shop later burned and the man died, but by then city planners had determined it would be too expensive to finish connecting the highway — maybe. That’s one of several urban legends about the unfinished road. A cab driver related it to us as fact. Others say the project just ran out of money. The cabbie pointed to another section that remained unfinished and said the engineer made such a major design error that two sections were badly misaligned and couldn’t be connected, leading him to commit suicide.

Maybe, maybe not. It’s more likely that a major contributing factor was a lack of cooperation between different spheres of government, according to one professional planner who’s a native of Cape Town.

This unfinished section of the freeway was converted into a parking deck for the city's convention center. Most days it gets little business, but it has a very strong roof.

This unfinished section of the freeway was converted into a parking deck for the city’s convention center. Most days it gets little business, but it has a very strong roof.

The one unquestionable truth is that raw ends of the unfinished road have been standing for decades, long enough to have become icons of the city skyline. While some residents want them torn down or converted to elevated greenways, others think they ought to stay just as they are because they’ve become a traditional part of the city.

Why anyone would want to retain a monument to mismanagement and poor planning is beyond me. Then again, I suspect any number of churches, cities, businesses, and institutions maintain buildings or departments or practices that are little more useful than Cape Town’s unfinished expressway, but they’ve become so ingrained in the culture that they remain long past their expiration date.

Give it some thought, and you probably will have little trouble thinking of examples. Demolition is a hard thing to do gently, but it can be done tactfully and wisely, if leaders are visionary, skillful, and persuasive enough. More power to those who know when it’s time to bite the bullet and move on.

 

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