“When will justice be done in Athens? There will be justice in Athens when those who arenot injured are as outraged as those who are.” - Thucydides

Potholes in roads are becoming part of the urban legend in South Africa. People go on and on about them. I’ve twice had to get a tyre replaced because of them in the last few years, once on a Good Friday! I’ve also done a report in a personal injury case for a person who was profoundly injured when he went into a pothole whilst riding a bicycle down hill. Another, Scott Taylor, was permanently disabled when he went into a pothole on his motorbike.

I attended a presentation last week on streetpeople who make their living on the street: from cardboard collectors, to hawkers, to bovine-head cookers, and mielie vendors; all of whom are hugely affected by potholes, unevennesses, and so forth on the pavements. An hour of the session was spent describing the problems, and various experiments with different sort of wheels and chassis for their trolleys which are an essential part of their set ups. Storage facilities are used for their paraphernalia at night, which is collected with trolleys.

At question time, I of course brought up the issue of universal design and how, if proper attention were paid to the environment for the sake of people in general (as has been in our Constitutionfor 16 years), another sector (probably as large as that of the disabilitysector) would be accommodated.

Clutter and street furniture is a large partof what I’m trying to highlight. Potholes, and uneven pavements, are the resultof a lack of maintenance; clutter is usually temporary, but bad positioning of street furniture is usually just bad planning. It should be carefully positioned, and the different departments of the Local Authority should work together. Thetraffic department installs ‘No Parking’ signs and traffic lights; the electricity department erects lighting. Here in Durban DSW (Durban Solid Waste) installs rubbish bins, bus stop signs, bus stop shelters and fire hydrants. Sometimes there are street vendor poles, at the airport there’ll be the odd trolley, and so it goes on. No coordination, and an inaccessible public environment. It’s not only street people, but also wheelchair users and ordinary people, having to step out into the traffic to traverse the public domain.

During my visit to Rome last year, where streets have often been inherited from 1000 years ago, I noticed that streetlights in central areas are strung from building to building across the narrow streets, and bracketed to the buildings on wider ones. The street surfaces arecobbles, which makes it much easier to install underground services, as they can be reassembled easily after the work is completed. But they are not suitable for everyone to walk on; not, however, as unsuitable as the very rough cobbles which are often used here.

I do feel sorry for waste pickers and vendorsas they are not usually considered when urban designers design. I wonder if wheelchair users are? In the presentation the words ‘inclusive’ and‘accessible’ were used often, but I know it was not in the wholistic manner inwhich I use it. Universal design principles would apply equally to solve many of their challenges. In the environment we explored there are enormous bridges (flyovers) over this busy transfer hub, and it is wonderful to see that this space has not been wasted by being cut off nor become a no man’s land. It isall used and incorporated into the landscape. Health and Safety seem to havetaken a back seat to tradition.

Since the standoff in 2009 regarding this area many concessions have perforce been made. I wish the disability sector could be incorporated into the social fabric in the same way, and acknowledged, as part of an integrated society.