Johannesburg City Parks & Zoo: Creating the best in public space

Maintaining a clean and vibrant environment is no mean task when the challenge is a city the size of Johannesburg, with 4.8 million residents.

Tasked with this remit, is the Johannesburg City Parks divisions, responsible for preserving and managing not just the city parks but also the zoo.

“This division preserves and manages the rich biodiversity and conservation found in designated public open spaces in the City of Johannesburg by providing education, research and recreation services with a focus on the Johannesburg Zoo, parks, street trees, conservation areas and cemeteries,” describes Phindile Chauke, Mayoral Communications, City of Johannesburg.

johanessburg-parks-woodedWith urban areas growing as people flock to South Africa’s cities in search of work, the need for clean, open spaces remains of paramount importance.

“As the custodians of the city’s biodiversity, including all parks, street trees, cemeteries, nature reserves, the zoo and the plant and animal-life found in Johannesburg, JCPZ ensures that we make the biggest impact, within limited budgets for the most number of people in areas of greatest need while simultaneously ensuring, that all existing facilities are managed at optimum levels,” states Chauke.

To that end, the department has been responsible for developing new parks with free-to-use outdoor gyms and next generation playgrounds; ensuring that the city has adequate burial space; greening the city by planting and maintaining over 200,000 established street trees; preserving the heritage and biodiversity found in the city’s 42 conservation areas and managing the education, research and development aspects of the Johannesburg Zoo while promoting it as the most popular family-oriented tourist destination in the city.

With some 1,726 employees, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo has a mixture of semi-skilled and skilled employees due to the nature of the company’s business. Hence, this mix provides a wonderful opportunity to address the national challenge of unemployment in the City. The [email protected] Programme ensures that co-operative community-based structures are created to empower benefiting communities during the rollout of job-intensive programmes and projects.

As already indicated, the migration of people to urban areas, creates one of the biggest challenges, a point that Chauke endorses: “Growing urbanisation and increasing densification in parts of the city, have resulted in the number of reports of the over-utilisation of parks and outdoor infrastructure. While there are major drives to educate users on respecting and taking ownership of public infrastructure, reports of security, vandalism, vagrancy and litter continue to be some of the ongoing problems faced.”

Of course investment is an important element to develop and maintain the upkeep of these precious spaces and Chauke says that new park developments support the City’s Corridors of Freedom programme, with Soweto continuing to provide the blueprint for transforming previously neglected open spaces, by developing award-winning parks with multi-functional recreational nodes for the whole family.

In November 2014 it was announced that City Parks is set to spend R16 million on [email protected] projects during 2015.

The [email protected] initiative aims at empowering community cooperatives and enterprises to tackle poverty, inequality and unemployment in the City.

News of the investment was revealed at a recent end-of-year service delivery information sharing session for ward councillors hosted by Member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development Councillor Chris Vondo.

johanessburg-parks-[email protected] is a mayoral initiative aimed at empowering ordinary Johannesburg residents and creating thousands of job opportunities in response to the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Some of the R16.35 million will be used under the horticulture and arboriculture [email protected] packages and on the implementation of projects such as the rejuvenation of Westdene Dam, Princess Tailings and Mshenguvile, as well as the development of several new parks along Joburg’s emerging Corridors of Freedom.

Other projects to be undertaken in 2015 include the building of 13 new parks, the continued development of the new Olifantsvlei Cemetery and the rejuvenation of Johannesburg Zoo.

Said Councillor Vondo: “As an entity, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo has positively worked towards achieving the goals of the Joburg 2040 strategy.

“Visible green change can be seen along the Corridors of Freedom as new parks are being developed and made available to the community, addressing and responding to fundamental issues such as poverty, inequality and accessibility. The entity has also had successful developments of parks in Noordheuwel, Yeoville and Westbury.”

He said another exciting project JCPZ had undertaken was the “My Parks, My City” initiative, which seeks to ensure that residents gain a deeper understanding in the way communities can use open spaces.

“This is a very exciting citizen programme that seeks to encourage everyone to appreciate and nurture their parks and open spaces, promote social cohesion and healthy lifestyles, and make residents see parks as multi-functional areas, safe places where they can express themselves.”

General Manager for Infrastructure Development Reginald Mokalapa said JCPZ’s highlights in 2014 included the planting of 212 trees during Arbor month, the continued breeding of high economic value rare species at its Rietkuil Conservation Farm, and being honoured with a prestigious Loerie Award, presented to the Johannesburg Zoo for its innovative hosting of Night Walks.

In busy cities, space is at a premium. In Johannesburg, the best possible use of space is being carefully managed by Johannesburg City Parks and Chauke has clear thoughts on what the future holds for the department:

“Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo will continue to provide citizens with the most affordable and best outdoor experience in the city, while exploring international outdoor trends in the design of public spaces to build a liveable city that is sustainable, functional, and vibrant.”