By Tasmi Quazi
Richard Dobson is the co-founder and Project Leader of Asiye eTafuleni. He is an architect by profession, and based on his integral involvement in urban regeneration work in Durban’s inner-city since 1996, he co-authored the book “Working in Warwick: Including Street Traders in Urban Plans”. Furthermore, he has been invited to a number of public presentations locally and internationally, and contributed towards articles relating to urban regeneration, urban management and the ‘informal’ economy.
In his own words, he accounts his personal journey into AeT:
“I was midway through completing my architectural degree when the youth of Soweto bravely and decisively, took to the streets in protest. The apartheid government`s reaction was violent, and over the ensuing years, belligerent and intransigent. I questioned the prospect [literally] of a creative career in a country that was now aflame and with a ruling minority bereft of principle. I resolved to find ways that my acquired skill could benefit individuals and communities who were marginalized by the society and the reach of built environment professionals. This was not entirely philanthropic! I had already become inquisitive about matters of under-development and how creative energy could intercept the generally fatalistic prospects faced by those in such situations. My final year thesis was an imagined community centre in a [then] African `township` on the outskirts of Durban.
My subsequent professional career displays a `Robin Hood` strategy. This has been an amazing and privileged opportunity, in partnership with skilled, ethical and collegial practitioners, engaged in productive commissions that have enabled operating almost parallel streams of work. One of these has been a decisive involvement with the challenges of under-development. The scale and nature of these commissions has varied, but all have been positive interventions within their context.
In 1996, in a quest to become more involved in low-energy housing, I was instead given the opportunity to implement the emerging infrastructural projects identified in the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project. This contract initiated a 10 year career with the eThekwini [Durban] Municipality and its inner city regeneration programme.
However, over these last few years the intensive and abiding involvement has been in the Warwick Junction district, the natural market for approximately 5 000 – 8 000 traders working in public spaces. This work has entrenched my conviction that the incisive provision of creative, enabling infrastructure implemented through thorough, respectful consultation can positively influence the lives of the urban working poor. This re-imagining of the workplace also translates into positive and contextually responsive urban environments – the often illusive quest of urban managers. It is this work that I am now privileged to continue through Asiye eTafuleni.”