Saturday, June 03, 2006

Time and the city

Long Street is my favourite street in Cape Town. It runs the length of the central city from the old Turkish Baths near the foot of the mountain to the intersection with the modern highway system that leads out of the city to the Atlantic Coast. Walking in Long Street is time travelling. Its old Victorian buildings, lovingly preserved and featuring yards and yards of ironwork "broekie lace" (pantie lace) decoration on their upper verandahs rub up against some of the city's trendiest discos clubs and cafes, which come and go with changes of fashion; sit cheek by jowl with tiny Edwardian bookshops, antique sellers, junk emporiums and a new crop of backpacker establishments. It's a busy street, narrow and therefore one way only, taking the traveller to the junction of Kloof, the street of high-class restaurants that climbs the lower slope of the mountain; and the route to De Waal Drive above the city and thence to the motorways south. But by night it becomes a de facto pedestrian mall as clubbers, pubbers and other visitors stream to its neon pleasure palaces. At right, the tiny, perfect city mosque finds itself in the shadow of late twentieth-century concrete parking garages. This is the shape of things to come for Long Street. Up to now the little shop owners have clung to their emporiums of the arcane as rents have risen. But now as they finally close their doors, the excavators and demolishers are building a new, chrome, glass and concrete Long Street. This is to serve not only the tourists but the many well-heeled Capetonians who are returning to live in the heart of the city, as the magnificent edifices that once housed great finance and insurance institutions become plush apartments and loft spaces. Their former owners are leaving for the fashionable, crime-free Waterfront, or the Highveld skyscraper suburb of Sandton that bears down on old Johannesburg's flank. Much of this development is being undertaken by filthy rich Irish builders, bent on reviving what they call "the Old Town". The renaissance of the abandoned corporate fortresses is to be welcomed, but the old town I know and love will live on in the crannies of this prosperous "lifestyle" precinct.


Blogger First Nations said...

thats beautiful! wish it hadnt taken three days to see (blogger problems on our side)

4:16 AM  

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