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Route 67 - an arts, culture and heritage route in Port Elizabeth

IFHP Council representative Bo Aronsson from Sweden, takes you to Port Elizabeth, a city located as south as you can get on the African continent. One of the most exciting South African inner-city developments of recent times.

In Port Elizabeth, the main city in Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, arts, culture and heritage is important tools in the urban regeneration process. After a long period of urban decay the municipality now focus on how to strengthen and extend the today limited inner city area. Other cities have something to learn on how to implement a unique idea in a very central location.


Let me take you to Port Elizabeth, a city located as south as you can get on the African continent. When you get there you must not miss Donkin Reserve and Route 67.


Route 67 is located in the central area of Port Elizabeth and has been considered to be one of the most exciting South African inner-city developments of recent times. It consists of 67 public art works symbolising and celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of work devoted to South Africa’s freedom struggle. It includes 67 steps leading from the old shore line up to the Donkin Reserve and the second largest flag in Africa.


Let’s go for a walk along the route! We start down at the 1820 Settler Monument, the Campanile tower close to the railway station at Strand Street. Port Elizabeth was established in 1820 when a party of 4,000 British settlers arrived by sea, encouraged by the government of the Cape Colony in order to strengthen the border region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. The town was founded by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, the Acting Governor of the Cape Colony, who also named it after his late wife, Elizabeth.


Leaving the Campanile, we continue under the Settlers Highway that dominates the lower parts of the CBD-area, and climb the staircase to Vuyisile Mini Square, which is the center of the City. Before the climb, we take our time to reflect on all the words we find in the tiles set into the restored paving in Jetty Street. A collaboration of artists have used value words in different languages to represent Nelson Mandela and the new South Africa and it's prosperity as a democratic nation; remembrance, gehoorsaamheid, courage, devotion, caring etc.


From the City center the route continues through the staircase at St Mary’s Terrace. From here on we can experience a richness of color, art and heritage. The staircase is lined with quotes from Nelson Mandela, one from each end every one of the 67 years he worked for freedom and for his country, South Africa.


At Chapel Street the mosaic staircase starts. It has been described as “an experimental journey that starts in darkness and turbulence and progress to a new dawn and explosion of colour, hope and new beginnings”. Winding aside of the stairs is the Voting Queue path, a path where over 3 000 of Nelson Mandela Bay's youth have left their mark on the asphalt as future voters. The stairs and the path take us up to the Donkin Reserve – the balcony of the city – and to the great flag aside the other two landmarks; the lighthouse and the pyramid, the latter a memorial to Elizabeth Donkin that gave name to the city. The Donkin Reserve is a national monument. The lighthouse was built in 1861 and now serves as the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality’s tourism information office.


Here we take a deep breath and enjoy the magnificent view over the Algoa Bay before we start to explore all the art that surrounds us. There is a metal cut-out of Nelson Mandela, with his fist raised, leading the voting line as a remembrance of the first democratic election back in 1994. There is a huge, magnificent mosaic, situated between the pyramid and the great flag that celebrates the multi-cultural, the heritage, the diverse histories and abundant fauna and flora that characterises the city and the province. There are also a number of small mosaics called Lighthouse Mosaic Moments that are interpretations by a number of artists on themes that are related to Port Elizabeth.


The artworks along Route 67 were designed by local artists from the Eastern Cape. The route celebrates not only Nelson Mandela but also the province’s heritage and history. It is designed as an important tourism hub for the city, paying respect to its arts, heritage and culture.


Route 67 has been developed by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), the city owned company, with the commission to project-manage regeneration of the CBD. Port Elizabeth has historically gone through a long period of urban decay and decentralisation from the inner city. The aim is to reverse the trend of urban decay and bring people and business back into the inner city. Route 67 is an example from that work. It links the old waterfront, the CBD and Central, the district around Donkin Reserve, by an investment that also attracts tourist from all South Africa and the rest of the world. Arts, culture and heritage are important tools for urban regeneration and development. Route 67 is an excellent example that other cities can learn from.


>> Watch the interview with IFHP Council representative Bo Aronsson from Sweden on IFHP's importance to him and for future cities.