2010: The Pedestrian and Transit Legacy of the World Cup

After being announced as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup in 2004, South Africa embarked on a journey of transportation transformation. The looming tournament helped fast-track a number of infrastructure projects, and the nation largely met the challenges of moving hundreds of thousands of spectators: KwaZulu-Natal opened its new King Shaka International Airport a month before the first kickoff, Gauteng’s Gautrain (more soon) was able to transport fans from O.R. Tambo International Airport to Sandton, and Jo’burg’s Rea Vaya helped clear Soccer City ahead of FIFA benchmark times.

In addition to these flagship projects, the World Cup (or simply 2010, as South Africans metonymically refer to the tournament) impelled some subtler changes in South Africa’s transportation landscape. A prime example is Cape Town’s Fan Walk, a corridor of pedestrian improvements between the city’s train station and Green Point Stadium. As the Christian Science Monitor reported, planners were completely overwhelmed by the massive turnout and positive response from both visitors and locals to this new walking infrastructure in the city; Capetonians have continued to use the fan walk for local soccer games, demonstrations, and (like me) the finish line festivities of the Cape Argus Cycle Tour.

The prodigious success of the Fan Walk demonstrates the power of walking as a “microprocess,” a term sociologist Saskia Sassen used recently in describing the potential of bike lanes (at a talk in Buenos Aires for the Our Cities Ourselves exhibit about transportation). As she said, to make global cities more sustainable “we don’t need the big flagship projects.” Indeed, the small infrastructure investment of the Fan Walk, hardly mentioned by city officials before the tournament, has served to catalyze and coordinate thousands of “pedestrian speech acts” (de Certeau) that collectively work to retake urban space from cars and reverse years of social division. The transportation legacy of 2010 is not just physical infrastructure, but, as Andrew Boraine writes, “attitudinal changes” as well.

It was only six years ago that architect Jan Gehl observed, “Pedestrians in Cape Town are a hunted race.” The World Cup helped with many improvements, but work remains to be done.

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