Thesen Island was named in 1923 after Charles Wilhelm Thesen who established a timber processing plant on the island back in 1922. Thesen was the son of Arndt Leonard Thesen, a timber merchant, who left his home in Norway in 1869 with his family to begin a new life in New Zealand; however, their ship ran into difficulties near Cape Town (South Africa) which lead the family to stay for good. Barloworld (then Barlows) – then and still one of South Africa’s leading mining, production and distribution companies – bough the island and its timber treatment plant from Thesen and Co. in the late 1980’s. Soon after, Barlows realised that the timber processing undertakings could not continue in the heart of such an eco-sensitive and scenic lagoon. Simultaneously, an ever-growing community concern was noted regarding the industrial and environmental pollution caused by the factory’s undertakings.
For approximately eight (8) years the uninhibited buildings, waste dumps and machinery became a health hazard and a monstrosity to the local community. A South African environmental designer and environmental engineer, Dr. Chris Mulder, had a new outlook for the derelict island – to turn it into a distinctive residential marina. The planning of the “new” Thesen Island called for extremely careful and sensitive development schemes – due to the Knysna River estuary being one of South Africa’s most sensitive ecosystems as well as a tourist attraction.
The planning process included specific focus on ecological, aesthetic, engineering, cultural, social and architectural related concerns. In 2001, ten (10) years passed since the initial dream was conceived to achieve a final approval.
Within Thesen Island, the neighbourhood has no noticeable centre. Although the ratio between residential, commercial and retail may be acceptable, the residential areas do seem overpowering due to the fact that the commercial and retail areas are not centralised on the island but rather to one side – resulting in the island having a lopsided appear.
The furthest residential dwelling (home) is approximately one-thousand three-hundred meters (1300 m) from “Harbour Town” (commercial, retail and public accommodation – commercial town “centre” marked on Figure 4 in grey as “public vehicle access”). This would result in an approximate 15-20 minute walk. From “Harbour Town”, it is a further one-thousand three-hundred meters (1100 m) to the nearest petrol station (Caltex), “food lover’s market” (Fruit ‘n Veg) and super market (Pick ‘n Pay / Checkers) – all of which are in town (in Knysna, off Thesen Island).
The distance, for the furthest resident on Thesen Island, that one has to travel to the super market would result in two-thousand six-hundred meters (2400 m). The island boasts a respectable diverse society ranging from elderly (retired) folks to young families to holiday goers. However, Thesen Island residential homes were not intended to act as social housing, hence lower income individuals, families and pensioners would not be able to live on the island as it is too “upper class” – for a lack of a better suiting phrase. This makes the island exclusive and does have benefits like security for example. Yet there are social hierarchical issues it does not solve as they are not addressed.
The nearest primary school (Knysna Primary School) and high school (Knysna High) is nine-hundred meters (900 m) and one-thousand five-hundred meters (1500 m), respectively, away from “Harbour Town”. The schools are all located in town (off Thesen Island).
The neighbourhood has an abundance of grassed areas for children to play, dogs to walk and residents to enjoy picnics. These grassed patches can be located near each dwelling as well as some public accommodation areas. “Harbour Town”, the apartment areas as well as public accommodation areas are all well connected with linking streets that are pedestrian friendly. The gated/private residential houses (as indicated in Figure 4 – large yellow area) are leaning towards urban sprawling with cul-de-sacs ending the street. These cul-de-sacs are not well linked which would lead to congested traffic in some circumstances; however due to Thesen Islands small population traffic is not congested and hardily a serious issue.
All streets on Thesen Island are narrow as well as paved with brick pavers. This not only slows down vehicular speed but also promotes pedestrian movement – handing over the hierarchy to pedestrians and cyclists. The main (and only) access road into Thesen Island has a very well defined termination point in the form of a mini-waterfront with local restaurants, retailers and businesses. In the neighbourhood, however, streets end in cul-de-sacs (that does not necessarily promote social interactions) that decreases access to and from “Harbour Town” – less routes lengthens streets and consequently motivates driving and demotivates the notion of walking – driving is anti-social.
The gated/private neighbourhood also does not have many community gathering points with restaurants, civic, commercial (including entertainment) or retail buildings apart from the recreational activities area (as indicated in Figure 4). This leads to an unsociable community where everyone uses vehicular transportation to do their weekly shopping instead of walking to a super market within a five minute stroll. It can be assumed that the gated/private neighbourhood is gated for security reasons.
Thesen Island has recognised the unique biodiversity of the eco-sensitive and scenic lagoon and has acted on regenerating this delicate zone and related bionetworks through protection (establishing a “no-go” area where development is not allowed – as indicated in Figure 4), density regulation and open-space areas.