Warwick Junction was until recently one of the most dangerous places in Durban, South Africa. A former policeman, tired of arresting people over and over again just to see them breaking the law again the next day, joined an architect and decided to start an NGO to tackle the problem from a different angle.
The place was on the edge of the formal (white) city, a transportation hub where vans from the countryside arrived as they brought people to work. If you can move people, you can also move goods, so consequently a market appeared. The “informal” world took an unfinished, abandoned elevated highway loop and used it as a “covered” open-air food market underneath with a pedestrian traditional medicine market on top. Actually, there were nine different markets—including from music to bovine heads, from traditional jewelry to herbs—in the same spot. Despite the exuberance, economic vitality, and cultural power of the place, it was unsafe.
The NGO Asiye eTafuleni therefore decided to physically intervene on what was a casual leftover by closing the gaps and breaches of the unfinished infrastructure, adding stairs and pedestrian bridges to create passages where connections had formerly been interrupted. The connectivity allowed for the creation of circuits and the development of a network that dissolved the “dead end” quality of the original structure. It also meant that the traffic beneath the structure could be reorganized, thus enabling for the coexistence at different levels of pedestrians and motorized vehicles of different scales.
Investment in cities normally follows a sectorial approach. In the case of Warwick Junction, for example, it is not obvious at all which ministry ought to have funded the redevelopment of the area. This “in between” condition—that is, in between the white and the black city, the formal and the informal, the traditional and the global, infrastructure and public space—or, more precisely, the dissolution of the sectorial approach to city design is the most powerful lesson we can learn from Warwick Junction. For the new urban world, each urban element will have to be more than one thing at a time: an elevated street may be a portico below, an infrastructure may have to serve as public space and commercial support. Today, to visit the Market is a very powerful experience: we can feel the magic, mystery, and even darkness (at least for a latin) of traditional medicine; the energy, volume, and hypnotic magnetism of traditional music; the richness, diversity, and chaos of market life. And the place can also be used as a bridge— literally and metaphorically—between the Western and the local world. This tells us that by connecting instead of isolating, facing instead of hiding, and channeling instead of repressing, violence and insecurity have been erased. This is why cities that negotiate their controversies can work as dismantling devices against ticking social time bombs.