• Great City or Terrible Place: The Durban Experience

Undoubtedly, when discussing great cities and urban themes, the colonial port-and/or-capital is still a major legacy that has yet to be overcome. Out of Africa’s 50 largest cities, fully 28 are cities of those historical types. Thirteen of the other 22 largest cities are in Nigeria and South Africa, pointing to another, related element of the colonial legacy. Durban is one such city- a historical port city nestled between estuary and harbour, the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the busiest port container in Africa.

Here in Durban, you will experience a city of surf, sun and sand, flourishing with exuberant sub-tropical air, free and fast flowing transport systems, vast architectural styles, and extensive beaches that have tourists flooding in and converging in her oceanic waters in the summer times.The generous provision to a pedestrianised system is worth taking note of. Great cities are made of these. Shaded sidewalks of upto 10metres width, urban greenscapes, public parks, street lights, and street art characterise this city. It is also worth mentioning that the public transport systems here work. Taxis-minibuses ferry city residents and commuters for a constant price of 5ZAR around the city and waiting bus-stops are covered with shades to keep off the extreme temperatures. You might want to grab a meal and experience the street food while you are it.

As you walk around, the architectural themes, ranging from that of the Early Architects, of United South Africa, Art Deco, Modern movement, Regionalism, New Brutalism, Monumental Nationalism, Civic projects, International interchanges, Stadia, Architecture schools, and Convention Centres, capture the eye.An architectural history lies herewith- it reflects the varied nature of Durban’s population and history. The first ever conference on architectural education in South Africa was held in Durban in July 1923. The first ever UIA-International Union of Architects Conference in Africa was recently held in Durban in August 2014. Great minds meet here. If you are lucky, you might even cross paths with figures like Diebedo Francis Kere, Susan Drake, Cameron Sinclair, Wang Shu, Joe Osae-Addo, Toyo Ito among other architecture influencers.

Great cities are made of these- a place for enterprise, a space for connection and interaction, a custodian of culture and history and a place for rebirth both for its residents and visitors. If you ever find yourself within the South of Africa, be sure to experience Durbanism- a city inviting decadence and offering promise. 

Nina Saunders, a practicing architect within the architectural fraternity in South Africa compares Durban to a 70s diva with multiple personas awaiting the evening’s pleasure. She is a fragile city, frayed at the centre like an aged prima donna. She is brash city-a tourist mecca. She is a rejected city-corporate commercial fled her and settled beyond her reaches. She is a threshold city-exactly to those previously so violentlyexcluded. She is a refuge city-to the Zanzibari community, rescued in ships from the slave trade off the eastern African coast and guided to safety in her harbour by the British colonisers in the 1870s. She is opportunity city-historically for the flotilla on indentured labourers from India who travelled the ocean to work the sugarcane fields. She is make-shift city- quiet restless sleepers secret themselves beneath folds of cardboard in the sanctuary offered by her bridges. She is spiritual city-with water baptisms at dawn in shallow waves. She is city of the night-rumbling buses come to town long before dawn. She is magnetic city-to the swelling flux of commuters, the revellers coming to her shores in summer times and to the Shembe followers converging on Ebuthleni for the July festivals. She is appropriation city- taking things and making them her own. She is time-share city- spaces are shared between commerce and devotion. She is birthing city- a place of creation and incubation. Most of all she is home- to a myriad of cultures all cupped in her hands.

 

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