Mommy PhD: The Downer

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Shortly after finishing the PhD people starting telling me that it was really common to get depressed after handing in and “did I feel OK”? The answer was “yes!” I felt lighter than I had in over a year. How ridiculous to think I would be down. What is not to like about seeing long neglected friends and family, and having those languid lie-ins and aimless wandering through shops? That was the first ten days.
The second ten days were a bit less indulgent and involved settling ooooold invoices, catching up on doctors’ appointments, unpacking boxes left over from our move but still seeing friends, getting my hair cut and updating my wardrobe. How could I not like this?
After the second ten days I woke up one day feeling really low. For me “low” looks like ratty, joyless, aimless, forgetful and compulsive sugar eating. One Saturday morning I sat on the edge of the bed and mumbled to Rob: “I’m not in a great space.” And then I burst into tears.

 

I decided to get professional help. I was feeling, I finally realised, bereaved in some way. It made sense, the therapist reassured me. A huge presence in my life had fallen away. This PhD had been a constant companion for over six years, had structured my daily ritual, how and when I exercised and ate, my focus, who I did and didn’t spend time with, my interests, my reading, my way of thinking about the world. It had provided me with some of my identity, and perhaps most importantly it had given me permission to live in a particular way. In a way which was unusual for mothers. Who wouldn’t miss that?

“You are in free fall” the therapist said. “The ground has fallen from underneath your feet. It’s scary.  Question is, where do you want to land?” Where indeed?
Where do YOU want to land post-PhD?
PS. This is the last blog post of me blathering on about my PhD. Next blogging outing will be in a new format blog and about where I landed after that downer! See you on the other side.

Mommy PhD: Guilt

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In the midst of PhD completion crisis management I felt Guilty all of the time. Guilty about the lack of order, the lack of time, energy, attention. Guilty about the toilet paper and cereal running out. (“Really” said the devil on my shoulder”, what kind of a mom does that?!”) and guilty about the outbreaks of frustration that would erupt from time to time and turn me into a whirling dervish of the not-so-saintly kind. White guilt, mothering guilt, working class guilt, I was capable if it all, in whatever shade or hue you wished to see.
Fast forward then to the end of my PhD studies when the light is clear at the end of the tunnel and the chaos is receding. What do I do? Do I start ticking off those (by now voluminous) mother-to-do lists and start feeling holy and self-satisfied?! Are you kidding, I help start up a very worthy but very time consuming NGO and I move house. Several people close to me asked:”are you mad?!” In a way, I was. I was so ingrained, so practiced, so habitually used to feeling guilty that I selected things to do which just perpetuated that feeling which had become “me”. But of course it wasn’t really me. So thanks to some wise counsel I am experiencing the giddy weird experience of paying bills on time, gardening, shopping and doing the Domestic Goddess thing. Strangely difficult for a recovering Guilt Martyr but quite fun when I allow it to be.

From Sea to Mountain: time to re-frame the City?

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Concept Sketch for Foreshore development (1940) from Town Planning Advisors Report to the South African Railways and Harbours Board

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Photograph of Proposal B: Foreshore exhibitions 2017

One of the more visionary elements in the current Foreshore Proposals is the ‘eye’ which would frame a view of Table Mountain from the harbour-side and create an iconic picture, especially for visitors arriving at the port. The idea has echoes of the earliest concepts for the area found in the 1947 Cape Town Foreshore Plan drawings, which highlighted the vista of those arriving by sea.

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Artist’s impression of view from Maritime Terminal, from Cape Town Foreshore Plan (1948)

Planners at the time created an over-arching concept for the area with a Monumental Approach from the Harbour towards the City Hall, framed by the Mountain Amphitheatre. For the consultants in the 1940s the Foreshore area was a “…a National rather than a Department or Municipal asset” and the planning was a “…unique opportunity, never likely to recur, of investing Cape Town with the dignity that is appropriate to the ‘Gateway to South Africa’”.

Over the following decades sea arrivals dropped in importance compared to air arrivals, and the words “Gateway to Africa” fell out of step with how Cape Town imagined itself. It is interesting, then, to see that the current Foreshore proposals include cruise terminal ideas. Is it is time to revisit the sea-city connections and the tourism and city marketing possibilities that could bring?

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Detail from Proposal B

Table Mountain and its sea approach is a widely loved, and globally known connected vista. As a City have not made much effort to frame it, physically or otherwise, in any meaningful way. In an increasingly competitive tourism environment can we afford to underplay the ‘romance’ of the approach by sea and the iconic vista that few cities can even aspire to? Or is the maritime ‘romance’ too associated with a European history many would rather forget? Could we find a way to physically re-frame this sea approach to Cape Town as part of Foreshore developments? In the process bringing forward the sea stories of all who sail and have sailed around the Cape, not only the wealthy few?

 

 

 

Dreams of freeway utopias: who benefits?

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Viewing Futurama (Prelinger Collection)

In the Spring of 1937 Shell Oil Company employed stage designer Norman Bel Geddes, to create a scale model of the future, utopian auto city for shows in New York and Detroit. Shell promoted this model, dubbing it the ‘City of Tomorrow’. The head of the Bureau of Street Traffic Research predicted that American cities would be rebuilt in this way in the next 25-50 years. During 1939-40, General Motors (GM) put on a major exhibit at New York’s World Fair, commissioning the same Bel Geddes to expand his Shell model to much bigger proportions. They called it ‘Futurama’.

In the first summer of the Fair, more than 5 million visitors traveled on conveyor belts to look down on the GM ‘Futurama’ model exhibit, as if from an airplane window. In Futurama free movement of autos was evoked across vast panoramas. The film of the exhibit, ‘To New Horizons’ (1940), evoked an America where there was freedom from want, and where mobility – social and physical – meant movement in cars on free-flowing expressways.

In the 1940s South African engineers toured US highway engineering departments and in 1951 the Cape Town City Engineer’s department published ‘Metropolis of Tomorrow’. The document suggests that Futurama-style thinking was important to the South African engineers too.

Sixty-five years on, looking at the Foreshore exhibitions, I wonder: are we still dreaming of a South African Futurama where road space is abundant and a free-flowing utopia is possible? And if so, who benefits from such dreams?

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Detail from Proposal C

 

“Lean and elegant”: The poetics of freeway building

Graphic from Proposal B

Graphic from Proposal C

“Our proposal starts”, said one of the Foreshore bids “by re-arranging and completing the elevated freeways in a lean and elegant way, thereby resolving the key traffic bottlenecks and improving traffic flows all across the surrounding road network.”

‘Lean’, ‘elegant’ and the resolution of traffic bottlenecks is not text-book civil engineering, but these words do evoke a long poetic tradition in traffic engineering texts.

When the first high speed roads for the foreshore were proposed by City Engineer Solomon Morris in 1951 they included a plan to depress part of a ring road across Government Avenue.

Morris wrote: “The bridges will be sympathetically designed in keeping with their sylvan setting, whilst the terraces and rockeries forming the banks will be planted with shrubs and other flowering plants so that no interruption or disturbance of the garden effect takes place…Indeed there is no reason why these proposals, if effectively carried out, should not enhance rather than detract from the beauty of the gardens and the Avenue promenade. The new vistas and the additional interest created by the difference of level, as well as the movement of traffic below the level of the gardens, will all help to enliven the scene, adding a touch of activity to the peaceful beauty of the surroundings. One may well imagine the pleasurable contemplation with which the passer-by through the Avenue will, from the quest seclusion of his elevation, gaze undisturbedly on the swift-moving traffic below.”

1951 Government Avenue

From: Metropolis of Tomorrow, 1951

Sylvan settings, lean and elegant roads, pleasurable contemplations, new vistas and gazes….Despite the use of scientific rationality and logical connections traffic engineering is, ultimately, about planning for the future. Planning, as Throgmorton has so memorably argued, is the art of persuasive story-telling. And as we can see from the texts it produces, engineering will try to persuade using whatever means have most power: numbers, graphics, models, presentations and even, if required, poetry.

Freeways and “as-built” bias: elevated, depressed or something else?

 

Citylift proposition

Citylift’s proposition for the Foreshore – a built earthwork ‘berm’ to replace the existing foreshore freeways, with buildings elevated, and cars hidden – looks radical at first glance. We must be careful, though, not to suppose that just because something (elevated freeway structures) are familiar, they are necessarily best. A rummage through the engineering reports of the 1960s, when the built schemes were under design scrutiny, tells interesting stories of early design decisions and the rationales behind them.

The much mooted underground tunneling of the freeway scheme was actually considered in the 1960s, but rejected on cost grounds. Professor Holford, one of the assessors on the Shand Committee which deliberated on the scheme at the time estimated R3,500,00 for a depressed (underground level but open) scheme and R1,600,000 for an elevated Table Bay Boulevard scheme. Quite how this elevation should take place, though, was undecided until the late 1960s. The 1968 engineer’s design report estimated that elevated structures (as we see them today) would be 8% more expensive than an earth retaining wall…but the engineers argued they would be justified on aesthetic grounds, and on the ability to retain parking underneath. The costs subsequently escalated well beyond these early estimates.

We need to beware of bias towards what is familiar and judge each scheme on its merits today.

Freeways: who decides what’s re-presented?

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Source: Cape Times. April 7, 1973 and Louis De Waal clippings collection

The Foreshore Freeways have been controversial from the outset. As the Long Street extension to Culemborg section was being built in the early 1970s the National Monuments Council unleashed an attack on the City of Cape Town for ‘indiscriminate development’. Fury focused on the potential impact of the planned Buitengracht Freeway section of the scheme.

Consultants warned that public opposition could stop the Buitengracht Freeway section and advised that the road be depressed, in order to alleviate the visual intrusion from the scheme. The costs, though, did not impress the Council Executive Committee, nor did the prospect of a ‘canyon’ through this part of Cape Town. Three years later the Buitengracht Freeway issue was still unresolved, and was deliberated by a new inter-disciplinary Environmental Advisory Board, who rejected both the elevated and depressed schemes and instead proposed a ground level alternative. A year later the matter was still unresolved, and residents in De Waterkant also weighed in with opposition, claiming that ‘a huge elevated freeway’ would be a tragedy for the townscape of old Cape Town. A new Committee of the Institute of Architects was formed, called ‘Urban Vigilance’, who countered the engineering consultants’ sketches in circulation with their own.

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Engineering sketches of Buitengracht freeway

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Architect sketches of Buitengracht freeway

So I am wondering, will we get to see any street level views of the proposed schemes? And if so, who decides what gets re-presented?

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