Misused Public Spaces

Addis Ababa’s Roundabouts:

Misused Public Spaces

In cities like Addis Ababa where urban spaces are scares as hen’s teeth, roundabouts offer a great deal of public space to display monuments and other forms of public art to document history, culture and commemorate figurative personalities and occasions. Luckily the redevelopment and expansion of existing and new roads has created more roundabouts in the city reaching 83 as of recently.
However, little has been done by the city government to develop these public spaces so that they serve their rightful purposes. To the disappointment of many, private companies have been scrambling them to display their commercials in the name of development. This is amid the fact that the city has erected no single monument in 25 years in honour of a national hero in such public spaces. EBR’s Tamirat Astatkie spoke with city officials, architects and art historians and also consulted researches to offer this report.Seen visibly from the roundabout in Sidist Kilo in Addis Ababa, is this spectacular work of art – Yekatit 12 Martyrs Monument. It is a 28 meter tall and a three dimensional monument dedicated to commemorate the lives of tens of thousands of Ethiopian martyrs brutally butchered for three consecutive days by the fascist Italian troops after the death attempt on the life of Viceroy Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, commander of the fascist army, by two Ethiopians, Abreha Deboch and Moges Asgedom, on February 17, 1937. Designed by two Yugoslav architects – Agustinsch Anto and Kelsench Fran – in which two Ethiopians – Yofthe Negusie and Ageghue Engeda – participated, the monument was erected and inaugurated in February 1942.
The roundabout, where Yekatit 12 Martyrs Monument stood, is among the few roundabouts in Addis Ababa with monuments named after prominent figures, historical events or for symbolic representations of significant phenomena. This is despite the fact that the growing road construction projects that have been underway for the last two decades have dramatically increased both road coverage and the number of roundabouts in the city. Currently, there are 83 roundabouts of which 59 have been developed, according to the information obtained from the Addis Ababa Parks, Beautification and Cemetery Agency (AAPBCA).
Alongside the prevalent existence of roundabouts in the city, there is a growing trend of transferring them to private companies for beautification and greening as well as to be used by the companies for promotion purposes. Many question the use of these roundabouts, which are part and parcel of public spaces, for commercial purposes.
Roundabout is a channelized intersection at which all traffic moves anticlockwise, around a central island. A report published by the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority in 2003 states that roundabouts must be designed to meet the needs of all users-drivers, pedestrians, pedestrians with disabilities and bicyclists. Experts in the area also suggest that when designing roundabouts, special considerations must be given to the needs of pedestrians with visual disabilities.
According to the Federal Highway Administration of US Department of Transportation, proper site selection and pedestrian channelization are essential to make roundabouts accessible to users.
There are different elements that should be taken into consideration during the design of roundabouts. These include design of vehicles, design speed, sight distance, deflection, central island, circulating width, inscribed circle diameter, entry and exit design, splitter island, super elevation and drainage, pavement markings, signage, lighting and landscaping. Moreover, roundabout is important to achieve slow entry speed, appropriate number of lanes, smooth channelizing, adequate accommodation of design vehicle, meeting need of pedestrians and bicyclists, sight distance and visibility.
From Architectural perspectives, according to Aziza Abdulfeta, Chair of Landscape Architecture at Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) at Addis Ababa University, there are features a roundabout should fulfill. ‘‘One of these is functionality. The most touted benefit of modern roundabouts is their ability to improve traffic flow by reducing delays and congestions,’’ she explains. ‘‘The purpose of roundabouts during the design of roads should be primarily defined in light of their functionality.’’
Aziza exemplifies functionality by taking the recently dismantled roundabout around St. Michael Church on the way to Jomo. The dismantling was part of the solution for the traffic woes in the area. “The problem of this roundabout was primarily related to its design.”
Press and Public Relations Head of the city government, Eyassu Solomon, could not agree more with Aziza by citing two more similar instances. “The roundabouts around Bole Michael and 18(Asra sement) Mazoria around Mesalemia in the city were recently dismantled.” He said, while their purpose was streamlining the traffic flow, the roundabouts exacerbated the jam and accidents in the area.
While designing roundabouts, designers primarily take into consideration the improvement of congestion and safety. However, the ability of modern roundabouts to improve public space is usually overlooked. Increased safety promotes walking, which increases the vibrancy of place, activates the street, and has several other multiplier effects that can create a destination.
The benefit of well designed roundabouts and proper public space encompass economic and social functions. According to Yeraswork Admassie (PhD), professor of sociology at AAU, roundabouts serve as meeting places for people from all walks of life, create a mind map of a city as they are landmarks and also symbolize the love and respect people have for their city.
Agreeing with what Yeraswork had to say, Aziza affirms that roundabouts can become community focal point and even as a public gathering spaces. Adding a sculpture, water feature, benches, and other architectural elements that call for attention help to achieve these functions of roundabouts.
Modern roundabouts provide opportunities for communities to reclaim intersections as community space.
Following the new trend of handing over roundabouts to private companies for beautification and gardening along with their promotion, one of the roundabouts in Addis Ababa has been developed by Edna Mall, a business center owned by construction business tycoon Teklebrehan Ambaye. The roundabout around Bole Medhanialem Church in the City has been gardened and used to place promotion works for businesses housed inside the Mall.
Tesfamriam Seyoum, General Manager of Edna Mall, explains that his company has transformed the roundabout and the adjacent road intersection, which are located right in front of the company’s building, into a thriving landmark of the city. “We have invested hugely to make the cleaning, gardening, and installation of fountain and artificial palm trees with coloured light,’’ says Tesfamriam. ‘‘What’s more, we spend close to ETB50,000 every month to keep its beauty. We are proud for having made the area a vibrant and familiar landmark.”
Tesfamriam says the involvement of businesses in beautifying public spaces has a win-win benefit. “People associate the changes of the area with our company; that [helps in] building the company’s image,’’ he explains. He says, Edna Mall is proud for sharing the responsibility of improving the image of the city.
A similar development in the very heart of the city, Mexico Square, is also taking place with the financing by Belayab Enterprise. According to Gedamu Hageregziabeher, director of operation, administration and procurement of the Enterprise, the company has spent close to one million birr to develop the roundabout and the road section. The company has hired a gardener to take care of the plants.
Explaining how the initiation of such development started, Gedamu says that the company was approached by Lideta sub-city with a proposal that invites the company to engage in the development of the roundabout and the surrounding area. “We accepted the offer without having a second thought about it because we consider it as part of our corporate social responsibility.”
Belayab initially planned to erect a work of art worth ETB2.5 million. However, due to the failure of the district to promptly respond to their query, the Enterprise limited its works to gardening the roundabout. “As we have a five year contract, we are now planning to come up with a catchy design to promote the company,” says Gedamu.
Yeraswork, the sociology professor at AAU; and Abebaw Ayalew, art historian from Ale School of Fine Arts and Design in the University, are vocal about the growing trend in the city administration where roundabouts are given to private companies in the name of development.
Yerasawork describes the situation as ‘invasion’. And Abebaw wonders why roundabouts are used for promoting companies, as they are considered public space. Like many residents in the city, Abebaw feels that roundabouts should be public. However, at the moment “when they are transferred to private companies [for development], they become dead spaces.” He underscores.
Explaining the fundamental reason for the city administration to transfer the properties to private companies, Abebaw refers to a study he conducted entitled ‘Conflicting Memories and Monuments in Addis Ababa’. He says, in the previous two regimes, there was a better trend of naming roundabouts and other public spaces after great historical incidents and prominent figures. Sometimes, the naming includes erecting statues.
However, during the current regime such missions have been taken over by regional states which in somehow made Addis Ababa ‘no man’s land’. Substantiating his argument, Abebaw mentions the monuments erected in Hawassa, Adama, Bahir Dar and Mekele to commemorate the struggle against the suppression of people for years [by the previous regimes]. “No monument has been erected in Addis Ababa” he argues.
Abebaw attributes the reason for this:“Whenever a decision is reached to erect a statue of a national hero, there is a tendency of limiting or associating that hero either to the region or ethnic group the hero belongs. The same is true with historical incidents and culture,” he stresses. ‘‘On the other hand, there is no debate on monuments errected to commomerate foreign personalities such as Bob Marely and Karl Henz Bum. These two figures bore no political controversies.’’
Despite their differences regarding who should manage roundabouts in the city, Abebaw agrees with Aziza. If there are no common representations in the country, there is an option of erecting beautiful works of art which are neither historic nor cultural.
According to Almaz Mekonnen, general manager of AAPBCA, the agency is working with private companies to beautfy and green the city.”
However, due to enforcement gaps, she admits that there are some companies who breach regulations and emphasize promotion on roundabouts which badly affect the image of the city. “We are going to follow up [on these companies] closely,’’ she underlines.
Regarding the naming of roundabouts to commemorate history, culture and prominent figures in the country, nothing tangible is going on.
Abebaw proposes to the city administration to consider beyond beautification of roundabouts and deliberately plan to name them and erect statues of significance. He says that will improve the aesthetic value of the city and help to transfer history to generations. EBR

5th Year • January 16 2017 – February 15 2017 • No. 47

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