Re-imagining the area of Woodstock Hospital
By Andrea Couvert
The recent Provincial Government decision to withdraw (see here) the application for the rezoning, subdivision and removal of restrictions on the Woodstock Hospital area, and, consequently, the decision to use the space for office purposes, is a small, but important victory for all those who fought to maintain the spaces of the former Woodstock hospital as an area for the needs of the community. This victory is mainly the result of the campaign led by Reclaiming the City, but I am convinced that the hundreds of objections that were sent by Woodstock residents had an important impact as well.
This opens a new phase: what now?
Certainly the worst thing we can do now is sit back and wait for public institutions to come up with a new proposal, only to discover that we do not like it.
We know that there is public declaration from the Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town that the area can be used for Social Housing Project. We also know that no formal project has been approved, nor resources allocated in the new Municipal Budget for such project.
I think that it is the right time for a public debate on how we imagine that space, and how we want it to be. There are other experiences in the city that we can analyze and from which we can learn. An important one is the successful campaign that Princess Vlei Forum ran to oppose to the opening of a shopping mall in a natural area. During this campaign, Princess Vlei Forum mobilized the community by launching a co-design process to draw a “people’s plan” describing an alternative development model for the area.
A people’s plan for Woodstock Hospital
People often think that co-design processes need to be promoted by government institutions, yet this is not always the case. The case of Princess Vlei shows that co-design processes can be successfully organized by other parties and that are powerful tools to mobilize communities and to steer the choices of local government.
A co-design process does not necessarily have to happen during a workshop, where people are gathered together. Of course, that’s a nice way of doing it, but we could do some preliminary work by sparking conversations in blogs or on social media, or just by chatting with the neighbours.
The City of Cape Town held various co-design workshops in 2014 for World Design Capital; the starting point was that of finding together some shared design principles, and use those principles as a brief to guide the “experts” during the planning phase. I believe that from that experience it is possible to draw some design principles, which we can use for re-imagining Woodstock Hospital. Two of those resonate with me as particularly relevant to this case:
- Creating spaces and services addressing health issues, in particular problems common among the elderly, such as: medication delivery, blood pressure check-up, assistance in making appointments with specialists and help with administrative documents. Some of those services are available in the new District Six Community Health Centre in Caledon St. but the problem remains that the Health Centre is far, especially for the elderly population of Woodstock.
- Integrating the City’s housing project with the surrounding community through the creation of spaces and opportunities that can be used by the entire population of Woodstock. In this way the social housing project can be framed as a useful resource for our neighborhood.
In addition to the conversation about which design principles it is useful to adopt, I believe that it is also important to gather information about other cases around the world that could offer us inspiration, suggestions, and ideas.
I want to share two cases that I found inspiring: the first experience, Via Baltea, refers to a space in the Italian city where I was born, Turin, while the second case, The Timmins Native Friendship Centre, is from Ontario, Canada (**). Community Hubs are not a new concept there, with the first one being established 160 years ago (see link).
Community Hub – Via Baltea 3 (www.viabaltea.it)
Via Baltea aims at integrating commercial and productive activities, with particular attention to preserving spaces for sociality and for forging solidarity relations. One of the leading issues is production and self-production: goods and services are produced, but Via Baltea is also a place where recycling, self-repair, reduction of consumption modes, and goods swaps are promoted (*)
Via Baltea is a Community Hub where various activities take place:
- A social cafe where people can find coffee and food as well as information on energy saving, co-housing, services and opportunities in the city, and a home appliances repair workshops, were people learn to make small repairs
- A kitchen club, community kitchen and gastronomic lab for organising courses, gourmet self-production, meetings and parties
- A carpentry Lab
- A co-working space
- A large space for activities and courses
- A bakery specialised in natural products
- The Jazz School Torino
- A Theatre School
- S-nodes, a research and action center aimed at disseminating community-building practices.
Community Hub – The Timmins Native Friendship Centre (www.tnfc.ca)
A member of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, is an example of partners identifying unique community needs and coming together to purchase the former Flora MacDonald Public School. The Friendship Centre now uses the space to offer a host of wellness, family, career, and education programs for the Indigenous community in Timmins and the broader community as well. 10 affordable housing units are also being built in the Friendship Centre. One goal of the Timmins Native Friendship Centre is to improve living conditions and health outcomes for members of the community and to address poverty and homelessness while providing culturally appropriate solutions. The Friendship Centre’s Under One Roof Project facilitates the housing of all of the Centre’s programs in one location.
Open a discussion
By sharing my thoughts in this post I hope to spark a conversation among the citizens of Woodstock, and to start imagining a common project integrating not only future social housing block, but also the community as a whole. Do you know of a particularly inspiring experience? Tell us! Share it in the Woodstock Facebook Page.
*Translation for the “Community Hub: i luoghi puri impazziscono”, report on the Italian Community Hub, 2016, Link
**Enabling & Celebrating Community Hubs, Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan, 2016 Link