Final Phase of CBD Development: The Case for a Green and Liveable Space 

The seated area outside the Vineyard is a great example of how to create a green liveable space, and should be repeated for the remaining development of the CBD, writes DOUGLAS RASBASH


Looking south over the empty plots, it appears that only 60% of the Gaborone CBD is built up. Tower cranes are conspicuous by their absence, signifying that no construction is taking place because there is no more interest from private developers. What can be done to re-stimulate development and the completion of the CBD?


The CBD covers an area of around 100ha planned on an orthogonal grid of roads and development plots. Almost all of the plots have been developed for government, office and commercial use. Only iTowers has mixed residential and commercial usage, which means the CBD is basically dead at night.


The process of updating the Gaborone CBD Master Plan is underway. This item suggests that the remaining undeveloped plots be mostly residential and that an eco-friendly heart of the nation’s capital emerge.

CBD thinking has exacerbated urban sprawl 

The original concept of the Central Business District was that it would provide the commercial heart of the nation. But current thinking that the CBD and Government Compound should be places that are not designated for living are now old hat. This is because it has led to a low-density conurbation with sprawling, and unplanned development that has brought about several disadvantages and challenges. Building infrastructure such as roads, utilities, and public services to support sprawling development has been costly. The old concept of a CBD has led unquestionably to an increased reliance on cars, longer commute times and traffic congestion.


In countries like Botswana where public transportation may be limited, sprawling development can exacerbate transportation challenges. Mobility for residents, especially those without access to private vehicles, is impaired. Sprawling development renders the provision of services like public transport uneconomic. This is because operating costs are higher to cope with lower demand but also longer distances.


Health disparities


Sprawling development consumes large amounts of land and natural resources, including water and energy. This can lead to the depletion of valuable resources and increased pressure on ecosystems, particularly in regions with limited resources like Botswana. Sprawling development patterns can discourage physical activity and contribute to sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and related health issues.


Lack of access to green spaces and recreational facilities in sprawling suburbs and satellites can further exacerbate these health disparities. Sprawling development often results in low-density neighbourhoods with limited access to amenities and public spaces. This can contribute to social isolation, decreased community cohesion, and disparities in access to services and opportunities, particularly for marginalised populations.


Unplanned development often leads to habitat destruction, loss of biodiversity, and increased pollution due to inadequate waste management and inefficient transportation systems. This can harm ecosystems, degrade air and water quality, and exacerbate climate change impacts. The concept of sprawl is driven by the notion that Batswana should have plots on which to have goats and chickens and grow crops. While this may have appealed to the first-generation of urbanites, following generations prefer the mall to growing water melons in farmsteads.


A further consideration is that the very essence of what a Central Business District is, is changing. No longer is it necessary for business activities to be physically concentrated. The advantages of agglomeration economics are reducing due ITC advances. Moreover, the rise of remote work and telecommuting has challenged the notion that physical presence in cities is essential for economic productivity.


Online collaboration tools, video conferencing, and remote project management have made it possible for teams to work together effectively across geographical boundaries. This has led to a re-evaluation of the need for centralised office spaces and has fuelled discussions about the potential for decentralisation and distributed work models.

Liveable spaces 

So what is the 15-minute urban planning rule? The 15-minute city concept in urban planning emphasises creating neighbourhoods where residents can access most of their daily needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their homes. This idea aims to promote sustainable, healthy and liveable cities by reducing the reliance on cars, minimising commute times, and enhancing community connections.


The main concept is one of maximising accessibility. People have easy access to their workplaces and essential services such as shopping malls, schools, healthcare facilities and parks being within a short distance. The 15-minute concept reduces carbon emissions by promoting walking, biking and the use of public transportation, thus decreasing reliance on cars. This encourages physical activity, leading to healthier lifestyles and reduced rates of obesity and related health issues. It fosters a sense of community by bringing people closer together and promoting interactions among residents.


To counter sprawling development, urban repopulation, also known as re-urbanisation or urban renaissance, refers to the phenomenon where people, particularly younger generations and empty-nesters, choose to move back to urban areas after a period of suburbanisation. This trend is characterised by an influx of residents into downtown areas such as the CBD and indeed the Government Compound, leading to revitalisation, economic growth, and cultural renewal.


Shorter commutes


Factors such as changing lifestyle preferences, the desire for shorter commutes, access to public transport and the appeal of urban amenities drive the demand for urban living. Urban areas offer proximity to jobs, services, entertainment, and cultural attractions, making them attractive to individuals seeking convenience and accessibility. Younger generations, no longer influenced by the call of the ‘village’, may be drawn to the vibrancy, diversity, and social opportunities available in cities, while empty-nesters may seek the cultural amenities and sense of community offered by urban neighbourhoods.


Urban centres provide a wide range of job opportunities in various industries, attracting individuals seeking career advancement and higher incomes. Reverse urban repopulation stimulates economic growth through increased consumer spending, job creation, and investment in urban infrastructure and real estate.


Above all, with climate change, there is a need to think about alternative lifestyle strategies. Greening-up, energy efficient buildings and even some parkland can be overlayed on the remaining CBD final development phase, which would place Gaborone, the CBD and Botswana on the world map for its progressivity. This is exactly what is needed for the knowledge-based, high-income society that we aspire to be. Encouraging signs are of newer buildings being green with the roof of Bank Gaborone and others covered in solar panels.


Environmental standards


A future CBD must be built to the highest of environmental standards such that new buildings are carbon-neutral and trees are planted not only to provide shade but to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by the rest of the CBD. The seated area outside the Vineyard is a great example of how to create a green and liveable space, and should be repeated for the remaining development of the CBD. The worst possible planning decision would be to allow more traffic into the CBD neighbourhood by opening up an entrance from the east side of the railway. At a stroke, the CBD would be transformed into a traffic-congested and unsafe place. The considerable benefit of the CBD is its relative tranquillity and safety, which should not be squandered.


Measures to transform the CBD into a 15-minute community are therefore being suggested. Encourage mixed-use developments that incorporate residential, commercial, and recreational spaces within the CBD. Enhance public transportation services within the CBD and surrounding areas. An objective should be to reduce the need for long-distance travel for daily activities.


Invest in pedestrian-friendly infrastructure such as wide, safe, well illuminated footpaths, pedestrian crossings and cycling lanes. This would promote walking and biking as viable modes of transportation that would spread well beyond the CBD. Ensure that essential amenities such as healthcare facilities and even education are localised. Ensure ample green space, parks are distributed evenly throughout the CBD. The amazing ‘Okavangoesque’ garden inside BURS offices should be used as a landscaping theme throughout the CBD.

By following these steps and incorporating elements of the 15-minute city concept, our Gaborone CBD can be transformed into a more sustainable, liveable, and vibrant urban environment that prioritises the well-being of its residents. There is also a very good case for applying the same principles to the Government Compound which, when combined with the CBD, would create an extraordinary place to live and work. Furthermore, the abysmal bus rank area should be completely redeveloped and integrated into the CBD and Government Compound.

The CBD is rightfully flagged as representative of the modern Botswana. Let the final phase of its development indicate a forward-thinking, eco-friendly and people-centred nation. In so doing, Botswana would be acclaimed for its enlightened approach to urban planning, attract interest, investment and jobs. Let us see those tower cranes return to create a city centre to be proud of.