Unliveable city

10 May 2013

One sometimes despairs at the direction urban development has taken in Windhoek.


In better days, Windhoek was the envy of other cities in the region and internationally for being a cosy, friendly, clean, stress-free and liveable city.

Now it is anything but any of those things.

Try to find parking in the Windhoek CBD. You could easily end up driving round a city block 20 times without finding a parking space.

The likelihood is that the exercise will drive you so crazy that you are more likely to end up in a mental institution than ever find a parking spot.

Shopping or just walking around the Windhoek CBD used to be a pleasant experience where one could walk into smart, well-appointed shops and browse at leisure.

Now it has become a harrowing experience, where one has to run the gauntlet of rude and reckless taxi drivers, aggressive parking guards, pickpockets and other assorted scammers.

Both the northern and southern ends of Independence Avenue in the CBD have acquired the appearance of run-down slum areas.

The Windhoek city centre used to be a place people would seek out to do business, shop and socialise over a relaxed coffee or lunch at somewhere like Schneider’s Café.

Now it has become a place many people dread, and that they avoid going to at any cost. Something somewhere has gone badly wrong.

Of course, one can blame some of Windhoek’s problems on the inevitable consequences of large-scale urban migration and a massive population explosion.

However, one cannot help feeling that we could have avoided many of the problems with better planning by the City of Windhoek (CoW).

You often wonder whether the CoW has a vision of where it wants to take the city, what that vision is or whether city officials have simply lost their way.

Everything the city council does seems to violate every principle of good planning and best practice in modern urban design.

The bywords in the vocabulary of modern urban planning have become the words ‘Liveable Cities’.

Digital Construction offers a very good definition of ‘Liveable Cities’.

“Liveable cities enhance the lives and well-being of its citizens, encouraging community and public participation through urban design that brings people together. Additionally, liveable cities embody sustainability – ecologically, economically and socially.”

Sorry to say, but Windhoek is no longer any of the above.

Over the past two decades, the CoW has presented numerous so-called ‘masterplans’ setting out blueprints for the future development of the city, none of which ever seem to materialise.

While it pays lip service to how it wants to ‘enhance the lives and well-being of its citizens’, naked greed usually derails its plans.

A good example is the disastrous decision to sell the huge open parking space opposite the Gustav Voigts centre to a private developer.

How fifteen men and women, good and true, could have taken such a monumentally stupid decision defies all understanding.

How do our city councillors think Windhoek can remain economically sustainable if they remove every last parking space in the city?

People no longer have anywhere to park if they want to go into a business and buy something, so how do they think businesses will survive without customers.

Higher income earners with cars now prefer to do their shopping at satellite/suburban shopping malls where they can find parking for their vehicles.

More and more, only people who use shoe-leather as their mode of transportation do their shopping in the CBD.

Woermann & Brock in Independence Avenue used to be a high-end supermarket, but it now mainly sells basic necessities because only low-income earners shop there.

If our city councillors had their way, they would sell every open space, every park and soon every pavement in the city to property developers to build their skyscrapers on.

In the end, it becomes a self-defeating exercise because no one will have access to these gleaming skyscrapers because of a lack of parking.

In the long-term, it is difficult to believe that the beautiful new Old Mutual’s Mutual Tower, or the new head office we now hear FNB plans to build, represent good investments because no one will be able to go there since they will have nowhere to park.

The fundamental problem is that greed drives the CoW’s decisions, and not the well-being of residents.

When the city sold the parking lot opposite the Gustav Voigts centre to United Africa Group (UAG) to build Eliakim Namundjebo Square for N$10 million five years ago, it probably thought it had hit the mother of all jackpots.

UAG has now reportedly sold just a small section of the same land to FNB for N$40 million. So who’s the fool now?

We don’t blame UAG for the debacle because anyone of us would have grabbed such a sweet deal with both hands if we had the chance.

The justification CoW always uses for these somewhat shady land deals – often concluded without inviting public tenders – is the ‘developmental benefit’.

Most residents however, probably find it hard to see these so-called benefits.

Invariably, the CoW promises us a ‘mixed development’ that will also include green spaces, provision for leisure and recreational activities and more than adequate parking space, but the developers rarely live up to these promises.

The owners usually end up reserving 50 percent of the parking bays for tenants, benefitting the elite at the expense of ordinary people.

Since Independence, all our parking spaces, public toilets, benches to sit on and even rubbish bins have disappeared slowly but gradually.

It’s hardly surprising that the less well off still earnestly advice you not to eat brown bread if you plan on visiting the city centre.

They don’t have the luxury of a car waiting to speed them away to a safe haven in case they have to answer the call of nature.

The elderly have no place to rest their weary legs when they go into the city centre.

Now even Auas Valley shopping centre has removed all its benches for people to sit on for reasons no one cannot quite fathom.

Businesses are all too happy to sell you their fast food and snacks.

However, the municipality has apparently not passed any by-laws that require them to provide rubbish bins where you can dispose of the wrappers.

Taxis cause much of the traffic mayhem in the city, because after 23 years the municipality has failed miserably in its attempts to provide us with a sensible public transport system.

The municipal bus service still gears its service to taking ‘maids’ to serve their white ‘madams’ in the suburbs instead of catering to the needs of the broader public.

Since Independence, the number of ‘green’ or open spaces, such as parks or other recreational areas, have diminished rather than increased.

Fundamentally, out city councillors need to decide whether their primary mandate is to serve the interests of property developers or to provide public amenities and serve the needs of residents.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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