Scene Three: Walking the Desire Lines


The Black River

In the back of Maitland Garden Village, one can see the route people take imprinted into the ground near the M5 highway. These paths, or “desire lines,” formed from people walking over them so many times, showing the “desire” for taking that route. These desire lines formed from people living in MGV and Oude Molen crossing over the M5 highway and the Black River to go to the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary, the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, and even swim when it gets sweltering hot. There was a bridge over the M5 highway that connected these desire lines behind MGV to more desire lines on the other side of the highway, next to the Black River. When the M5 Highway was remodeled in 2011, the bridge was taken down. Crossing the M5 Highway from MGV is now very unsafe by foot and either an indirect car ride or public transportation are the only ways to get from one side of the highway to the other.

Cast of Characters
Our walk along the desire lines behind the village was led by Lorenzo, a chairman of the Green Light Project and also Sheila’s nephew. He took us to see the where there was once a pedestrian bridge over the M5. Before starting our walk along the desire lines, we met Basil Tommy and Godfrey Domingo who were there to discuss submitting a proposal for the pedestrian bridge, as well as a plot of land that includes space for agriculture and a building for a help centre that Sheila and Ronell have been working to obtain.  Basil Tommy has worked intimately with Cape Town Project Center projects in the past and Godfrey Domingo is a representative from the City of Cape Town’s Urban Agricultural Department.

We met at the site of an old golf driving range with Sheila, Ronell, Lorenzo, Basil, and Godfrey. They discussed that a proposal needed to be submitted in order to potentially secure the land and the building for agriculture and the help centre. The building was abandoned, and while originally white, carried a layer of black marks which included vandalism. The plot of land intended for a community garden had soft soil that your shoe sank into every time you stepped down. After a short discussion Lorenzo took us for a walk along the Black River. He showed us where they currently walk in order to get to the other side of the Black River. The desire lines along the path were mostly overgrown by high grass and a thick stemmed weeds with yellow flowers. These lines were almost impossible to navigate as they were covered in grass with a shorter layer of grass trying to grow. The river itself had many white birds on it that looked like the same ones from the park.

M5 highway

We listened in on a meeting between the village leaders and Basil and Godfrey regarding the proposal for land and a building for agriculture and a help centre. Afterwards, we walked the desire lines for about 30 minutes with Lorenzo while discussing the issues with not having a proper pedestrian bridge across to the other side of the river. Many of us had our cameras and took pictures of the river, as well as the site where there was once a pedestrian bridge over the M5.


There were three aspects to consider from our interactions along the desire lines: our team’s role, the role of the help centre and agricultural land, and the role of the pedestrian bridge that once existed. We have to start considering how these features may fit into the Black River pathway, as well as how the pedestrian bridge may fit into our project. Moreover, considering how we will interact with the help centre team on certain aspects of the project is important as well.


1) Our Role

  • How do you see us fitting into the project planning processes?
  • What interactions do you see occurring in the two groups working in MGV?
  • How do you see us fitting into the project?
  • What is your main goal for this project?
  • Where do you see this project ending up in two months?

2) The role of the help centre and agricultural land

  • How do you see the help centre and land fitting into the pathway?
  • Where do you see the distinction between the two projects?

3) The pedestrian bridge

  • What was the use of the old bridge?
  • Where was the bridge that used to be along the river?
  • Why was the bridge removed?
  • How does the community currently get across the river?
  • How can this bridge integrate into the pathway?


Before Basil arrived for the meeting on the proposed area for the help centre and garden, we looked around the area and took a few pictures of the scenic Table Mountain in the background. Once the meeting commenced, Ronell, Sheila, Lorenzo, Basil, Godfrey and a few other community leaders formed a circle to discuss their plans. They discussed writing a proposal for city council in order to secure the building and the land.  Basil offered for us to ask questions although we did not even know what the meeting was about until then so we did not have any prepared questions. We took Godfrey’s business to contact him once questions arise.

When the meeting ended, Lorenzo led both teams along the desire lines along the Black River in order to get a sense of what our project is facing. Our first stop was a bridge lined by a fence that community members hop over  in order to get to the other side of the river since there is no longer a bridge. The next stop was the location of the old bridge where the new expressway is currently located. We walked about 100 feet along the highway to reach the point where we could see the other connecting bridge across the river. The community has to dodge the traffic lanes with speeding cars in order to get to the river bridge. In order to get to places like the Raapenberg Bird Sanctuary, the Christiaan Barnard Hospital, and a pool when it gets hot, villagers have either of these two options. Both cases are not ideal, but crossing the M5 is surely more dangerous, and driving there takes much longer since it is not a direct route like walking over. Unfortunately, many villagers often cross the M5 because it is the quickest route, shortest distance and does not cost money like a train or cab.

Reflection and learning
From the meeting and walk along the desire lines it is apparent that there are important features to consider integrating into our project. Incorporating the potential help centre and its accompanying garden into the Black River pathway is a possibility. Moreover, working with the help centre team on a proposal that includes the securing of the driving range building, land, and construction of a pedestrian bridge is a significant task early on in our project. The challenge is making it clear to our co-researchers what projects each team should be working on. Sheila and Ronell work on so many things at once that they have a natural tendency to want the pathway team and the help centre team to work together. On some projects, like the proposal this can be effective, but on many others, it would be counter-productive.
Lorenzo seems to have a better understanding of the notion that we are two separate teams working on different projects. He told us that it is sometimes easy to become unfocused, and that it will be important for us to bring our focus back to our project goals when we derail. Sitting down and discussing with Sheila and Ronell the goals of each team will be important so that our projects do not become unnecessarily intertwined with one another.
It was also nice for our team to actually see the location that we have been preparing for in the past seven weeks.  The desire lines were something that last year’s pathway team described to us, but they were a lot different than we expected.  For example, the portion we were on were a lot thinner and less noticeable than pictures we had seen.  Overall, the day was full of unforeseen opportunities and we were very excited for our first MGV experience.

Notes for the future scene
The biggest note for the upcoming scenes is to try to figure out how our project fits into the grand design that Ronell and Sheila have so far. We will also be getting input from the City of Cape Town we begin to meet with our liaisons, Clive, Crispin, and Juan. It is important to make sure that the pathway plans cover all the aspects that our co-researchers and sponsors want to see integrated into the pathway.