Designing for Safer Inner-City Parks in Johannesburg

Designing for Safer Inner-City Parks in Johannesburg – Blog

Children listening to story-telling in End Street Park North - the site of a participatory park upgrade project in Johannesburg's inner city.

Children listening to story-telling in End Street Park North - the site of a participatory park upgrade project in Johannesburg's inner city.

Public parks are a vital component of cities’ spatial structures and play an important role in the social life and fabric of cities as spaces of rest, play, mobility, exercise and social connection, particularly in high density city centres.

Public spaces

Through public spaces, cities can promote more inclusive, convivial and safer places for their citizens. Read more

Inner city parks are both exciting and daunting public spaces to design and to manage. They are of crucial importance in dense urban settings, potentially used by an incredible diversity and number of users. They are however often seen as the reflective mirror of inner cities social ills – showcasing concentrations of poverty, high levels of crime, limited sense of community ownership and social control in highly mobile and fluid environments.

Johannesburg inner-city parks are no exception. The city of Johannesburg, as many South African cities, has a severe lack of open spaces and parks to cater for its existing and rapidly increasing population. This high population size in the inner-city has caused a strain on its limited amount of open spaces and parks, with park spaces in particular being over-utilised and rapidly degenerating in physical condition.

Due to this, Johannesburg’s parks have increasingly become perceived as chaotic, unsafe and undesirable spaces where homeless people sleep and criminals engage in illicit activities such as gambling and drug trade. Parks and other public open spaces in the city are affected by unacceptably high rates of crime and violence, which impact profoundly on the residents’ mobility and quality of life.

End Street North Park – A Contested Space in a Dynamic Neighbourhood

End Street North Park is largely vacant during the day with only a few homeless people found sleeping
This post shares experiences from End Street North Park Johannesburg; a park that has been earmarked for a physical upgrade and testing an inclusive management structure that involves local residents, institutions, businesses and possibly related NGOs. End Street North park is located in Doornfontein, a former industrial district in the inner-city of Johannesburg that is undergoing change. Old industrial warehouse buildings are gradually being transformed into residential and commercial buildings and populations residing and working in the area are changing annually.

End Street North Park Pilot

For more information about the pilot project, visit the project profile.

The Park seems to be a place of contestation in terms of its users and its surroundings. Although it is fairly underutilised, the Park is often occupied by a number of homeless people and informal waste pickers who assemble their waste there and also use the park as a place to sleep.

End Street North Park is surrounded by buildings that are more commercial than residential, including night clubs, gambling houses, shebeens and brothels, on its western edge, as well as various learning institutions such as a primary school, children’s home and the University of Johannesburg’s Doornfontein Campus. The Park also has a number of informal traders on its edge selling sweets, snacks and cigarettes as well as mini bus taxis that are informally parked on the streets adjacent to the parks.

The End Street North Park Upgrade - Integrated Stakeholder Engagement for Park Design and Management

Boxing activities taking place with community members as part of one of the weekly park activation events
Through the support of the GIZ Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention Programme (VCP), Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ), together with other city departments such as the Joburg City Safety Programme (JCSP) in the Department for Public Safety, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) selected End Street North Park as a pilot project that tests a participatory approach to park design and management for safety. It attempts a more socially inclusive, and community-oriented approach to park design and management.

Sticky Situations, a community participation organisation, was commissioned to facilitate multi-stakeholder engagement and mapping. It has played a key role in understanding the activities within the park and its users, as well as in planning and implementing programmes focused on promoting active community participation in the planning of the upgraded park.

The objective of the project is to demonstrate an integrated stakeholder approach to public space design and management that involves sector contributions from different city departments as well as engagement with city residents and other park users in designing a safe, inclusive and sustainable public space though participatory tools and methods.

The project furthermore aims to develop a sound governance model for integrated urban development that can be used in the City of Johannesburg and (possibly) in other South African cities as well. Secondly, guidelines will be produced for improving the quality of public open spaces with a focus on safety These will shed light on the institutional arrangements necessary to coordinate and demonstrate the value of contributions by several city departments. The lessons learned of the pilot project will, thirdly, also inform the development of a park and public spaces safety strategy that will in turn support the implementation of Johannesburg’s city safety strategy.

What has happened so far?

Community Participation

School children from Doornfontein area play and learn during one of the weekly park activation events
The project has so far managed to undertake various community-based activities in the park, including a “MineCraft” workshop and weekend ‘Park Activation’ activities such as a “Meet your Neighbour” event and a boxing tournament that aimed at bringing residents together through games and learning exercises.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) was involved in the project to facilitate the use of “MineCraft” as a virtual ICT (video game) community participation tool for public space design. With support from the Tshimololong precinct (TechnoHub), a two-day MineCraft workshop was held in November 2015. In the workshop, residents, school children, neighbouring stakeholders and users of End Street North Park were trained to use and ‘play’ with Minecraft to craft designs and materials for the facilities and activities they would like to have in the park.

A team from the GIZ Violence and Crime Prevention Programme and the Department of Public Safety also conducted a safety audit on safety perceptions of residents living around the park. The insights from the audit helped to better understand who uses the park and what activities take place within the park on a daily basis. The safety audit was done using the 'Toolkit for Participatory Safety Planning' which provides tools and guidelines for the collection of data about perceived safety in communities.

Developing a sound Governance model

The project was able to gather multiple sector and service departments within the City of Johannesburg, as well as from the Gauteng provincial government, to identify contributions necessary to sustainably upgrade, manage and activate End Street North Park. So far this has demonstrated the effectiveness of truly integrated efforts of multiple stakeholder and city entities in a localised learning site.

Stakeholders that have been involved so far include Inner City Road Map Office, Development Planning (DP), Department Of Road and Transport, Citizen Relationship and Urban Management (CRUM), PikitUp, Social Development department and the Gauteng Department of Community Safety.

The Way Forward

Doornfontein residents identify activities in the park and important actors for park design and management.
The engagements with the community - through the MineCraft workshop and the weekend ‘park activation’ activities - have positively contributed to the planning and conceptualising phase of the project.  A draft design of the park upgrade is one of the products that have come out of the community engagement so far (particularly through the MineCraft Workshop) and the community will continue to play a part even towards the upcoming implementation of the park upgrade.

The contributions of the multiple city stakeholder departments will also continue to feed into the implementation of the park upgrade: particularly in implementing the collaborative park management structure between various city departments and the community that has been proposed for the park.

The project will continue to engage other relevant government stakeholders to feed into the implementation of the physical upgrade and management of the park. Most importantly, the project will also continue to support the community in using and conducting activities in the park, to ensure that the park continues to be an actively used and liveable space in the Doornfontein area.

Nkosilenhle Mavuso is currently an Intern at the GIZ Violence and Crime Prevention Programme (VCP) and a Masters Candidate in Urban Design at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS). He has experience in doing research-related work and projects in Urban Design, Urban Informality and Housing as well as Public Space use and Safety in Johannesburg.

More information

For more information on the End Street Park North Upgrade, please contact

blog comments powered by Disqus