Swakop CBD to Go Into Survival Mode

DUE to major commercial retail and service developments around Swakopmund’s CBD, the Swakopmund Municipal Council has come to the discomfiting realisation that its historic and aesthetic unique CBD may ‘run out of feet’ in the not too distant future – which would be catastrophic to the town’s fame as being a historical international tourism resort.

Because of this realisation, the council called upon all CBD business and building owners to meet and form a committee that will manage creative plans to ‘reinvent’ the CBD to keep people coming to it.

Reference was made to Windhoek where poor town planning on the one hand, and massive retail developments on the other, have severely impacted CBD economic activity, and now it is feared that the same may happen to Swakopmund.

The billion dollar Bahnhof Square Project and other developments are said to be big enough to seriously impact business in the CBD. It is argued that most shops in the CBD will move out, and into the big development, anticipating more business.

“The prime spot in Swakop’s CBD may not be so prime in the future,” said Swakopmund Municipality CEO Eckart Demasius to interested and affected parties on Friday. “We need to come up with ideas to maintain the ‘old town’ for tourists and locals.”

It will be the responsibility of the business community to manage the ‘survival’ programme, and the municipality will make it possible.

One of the first big changes, which could be effected as soon as December, is the discontinuance of the annual Christmas Fair. According to Demasius, the fair has lost its flare as a Christmas tradition and has become a normal street market, which ultimately defeats its initial purpose.

Although the ‘survival and reinvention’ of the CBD is only in its baby-shoes, and a proper committee first would have to be set up, it was suggested that Sam Nujoma Avenue – the main road – be closed down for traffic and that a large street market be set up for pedestrians in December (for a day or two – “just to test the waters and improvise from there for the way forward”). This, anyway, according to old ‘Swakopmunders’ is how the Christmas fair started decades ago.

One plan is to make the CBD a pedestrian only zone, where only specific parking areas are allocated – permanently.

“Swakopmunders need to learn the habit of walking. It is healthy and it saves fuel. They have become too comfortable in driving from one parking space to the one next door just to get closer to the shop,” said Demasius.

Another suggestion, which was supported by many of the participants, is to start annual local festivals that are ‘chained together’ during fixed periods throughout the year – especially during South African school holidays. These “Swakopmund Festivals”, with some proper redesigning of infrastructure and streets and ‘street furniture’ and greenery, may just enhance the CBD’s attraction, it is believed.

Others however challenged the municipality to first take care of the lack of public toilet facilities in the CBD and the sometimes intimidating presence of street vendors that move around town indiscriminately without official permission.

Follow-up meetings will be held to promote the survival plan and set up an official ‘precinct association’ to manage and maintain the process.

Source : The Namibian