This week we shall look at the town centres of Francistown and Lobatse. Francistown’s CBD lies adjacent to the railway tracks next to the railway station. It also has received a facelift in recent years. Blue Jacket Street is lined with some pleasant modern buildings and an attractive civic centre flanked by attractive lawns and shady palms. And the street is flanked by attractive shady trees. But many other buildings in the CBD could do with a makeover, especially the Chinese shops.
And the sidewalks are often characterized by uneven paving slabs guaranteed to cause passersby to trip over them. At one time, concrete tables and benches were placed along sidewalks along the street by the railway, but they have now fallen into disrepair.
They should be renovated and thatched gazebos should be constructed; they would then provide a place for weary shoppers to relax during their time in town. And a few shade trees could be planted along the street by the railway for those hot summer days. However, the city fathers intend to redevelop the city centre through implementing the Francistown Development Plan [FDP]. Included in this ambitious plan is the development of the Central Market plot and introducing multi-level parking to reduce traffic congestion.
But inner city development here is not just about malls and supermarkets. The FDP also recognizes the need to provide recreational facilities; at present, the land adjacent to the Tati river is unused and so could be used in this way. Recently, a member of the Francistown City Council, Lopang Pule, recently told Botswana Guardian that there is a link between spatial environment and investor confidence. Investors can provide much needed jobs, especially for our youth.
And in so doing, they can boost the local economy. But these days, investors are not only interested in commercial opportunities , tax breaks and the like. They also want to live in a pleasant, attractive and safe environment. Francistown city centre has a rich colourful history. It dates back to the late nineteenth century when gold was discovered in the surrounding area in 1869. This sparked the first gold rush in Africa, some 15 years before the gold boom on the Witwatersrand in South Africa. And the city was named after Daniel Francis, one of the early English prospectors.
Haskins Street is named after a leading family of traders who did much to develop the town in its early days. Blue Jacket Street, another street in the CBD, got its name from one of the miners who was known for wearing blue jackets.
Along the street by the railway were the town’s two favourite drinking holes – the Tati hotel, built in colonial style, and the Grand hotel. Although the former has since been dismantled, a colourful mural, showing the hotel in its glory days, decorates one wall where the hotel once stood. For these reasons, we need to preserve our town and city centres!
But Lobatse takes the wooden spoon for its CBD. Although the town has an attractive setting amidst hills, and Peleng hill forms an impressive backdrop to the CBD, this is not reflected in the appearance and state of the CBD. Some serious work is needed here to make the CBD attractive to residents, visitors and investors alike.
Period! Firstly, many of its buildings could do with a welcome coat of paint. Between the main street and the railway is the parking lot. The latter is separated from the road by a narrow sidewalk along which some trees and bushes have been planted. But the sidewalk is much too narrow to accommodate such plants.
Their roots have pushed up the bricks and no basins were prepared around the plants to hold rainwater. For these reasons, many of these plants are now dying or are dead. To reduce Lobatse’s growing litter problem the town council has placed large skips in the parking lot where people can put their trash. But so often these are full to overflowing with tin cans, plastics, paper, cardboard and boxes which are scattered all over the area. And the problem is made worse by the town’s street kids, or Bo Bashi, who climb into the skips and empty everything out in their search for unwanted clothing or some food leftovers.
Now what impression of the town will people have when they see this? Between the parking lot and the railway tracks is an area of tall overgrown grass and thorn bush. Why can’t this be cleared and developed? This area could be provided with stone benches and tables and thatched gazebos where shoppers could rest a while.
In the nearby bus rank, street vendors have been provided with smart portacabins where they conduct their business. Perhaps some of these could be erected here – most street vendors in the CBD sit on the sidewalks in all weathers selling their goods.
There are also public toilets here. But these seem to be permanently locked and the surrounding area is at times covered with pools of stagnant sewage. The stench here can be overpowering and nauseating. And at night, the streetlights are usually out of order here.
In some places, the paving making up the sidewalks is broken up and fallen dead trees lie close to the road. Near the level crossing, where the road crosses the railway, paint is peeling off the railings some of which are falling down.
The paths leading from the CBD to the Lobatse Junction Mall and the post office are also overgrown with tall grasses, weeds and thorn bush – ideal places for snakes and other nasties to hang out! But despite this, some progress is now being made on redeveloping Lobatse’s CBD.
At the end of the newly constructed pedestrian bridge over the railway, work has begun on establishing a garden. Here the beds have been covered with attractive reddish brown stones and slabs of rock and planted with aloes.
These plants are succulents and are well adapted to our dry climate and so they require little water. And their scarlet red flowers add a welcome splash of colour to our dry brown winter landscape. In contrast to the CBD, the recently developed bus rank and adjacent Lobatse Junction mall are very different.
Well laid out, spacious, attractive to the eye, and with ample parking and modern looking stores, it provides shoppers with a pleasant experience. So, maybe the town’s powers that be could take some tips from here! Like Francistown, a river passes through Lobatse – the Peleng river.
At present, the area along the river is undeveloped but it is a pleasant area and is dotted with attractive large Acacia karoo/mooka trees. As in Francistown, this area could perhaps be turned into a recreational park, or children’s playground complete with swings, roundabouts... And at weekends, vendors could sell cold drinks, ice cream, hot dogs, boerewors... In conclusion, an attractive CBD in our towns and cities should not be overlooked. An attractive looking CBD can provide jobs and attract investors so that they can set up shop here and boost the local economy. And the local residents will have more pride in their town or city.