In 2015, End Street North park was selected as a site for piloting a collaborative model for for designing, developing and managing inclusive and sustainable public parks. This process brought together Johannesburg City Parks Zoo (JCPZ), Public Safety Department (PSD) and Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) from within the City, external development partners such as the GIZ Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention (VCP) Programme, UN Habitat, academic institutions namely University of the Witwatersrand and University of Johannesburg, social facilitators Sticky Situations and most critically the communities of Ward 123.
Though a lengthy, complex and iterative process, the park was finally completed in 2018. Park Activation Coordinators (PACs) were established during the design and implementation process to empower community members with the tools to support with park activations and other management elements, in partnership with the municipality.
The ESN pilot project has been showcased numerous times in various local and international platforms for its innovative approach to public space cocreation and co-management. It has been especially useful in demonstrating the practical operationalisation of key policies and frameworks such, such as the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) where urban safety is one of three cross-cutting issues, particularly its policy levers “1: Integrated Urban Planning and Management” and “7: Empowered Active Communities”. Furthermore, the design of the park applied Safety through Environmental Design principles (STED) such as access, visibility and ownership of space. STED is highlighted in the Integrated Violence and Crime Prevention Strategy (ICVPS) as one of the key pillars to responding to safety challenges.
However, five years later, the precinct remains in flux, the park’s facilities are vandalized – the mural covered ablution block with its heavily barred windows and roll down shutters are demonstration of this. Despite this, the park is still an oasis for the community where young kids clamber over the deteriorating play equipment daily in innocent fun and where a homeless person can rest on a patch of grass. On a recent visit to the site a young man sat on one of the remaining benches and earnestly jotted down some thoughts into his notebook. And although more sporadic in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, PACs together with many other community members continue to initiate a variety of activities in the park.
What have we learned and are we still learning through this project?
Involving community members and relevant stakeholders, including residents, neighbouring schools that may make use of the space, local City Improvement Districts (CIDs), sports groups etc. from conceptualisation through to the management of the ESN (re)development was crucial to encouraging ownership of the park as a community asset, strengthening relations with the community itself and contributing to enhanced social cohesion.
Related to the above, co-management of parks and all public facilities in general should be discussed as part of the design process to ensure ownership and sustainability. To this end, it should be clear from the onset what operational resources are necessary, both financial and human, and the responsibilities of the various stakeholders, particularly the community. Where capacity building or skilling is necessary to ensure effective co-management, this should be identified and planned during the conceptualisation and design processes.
Though cocreation is critical, it does not guarantee sustainability of the space. Ongoing activations and resources are required to ensure that the maintenance and vibrancy of the space.
It is critical to systematically integrated gender responsive and transformative approaches and an intersectional lens throughout the process ensures that participatory processes, designs and actual implementation considers the vulnerabilities of women, children, the elderly, people living with disabilities as well as members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This article is part of the “VCP and Partners in Public Space” project, and specifically, a five-part blog series highlighting public space collaborations between the VCP Programme and partners City of Johannesburg, Sol Plaatje Municipality and eThekwini Municipality. The project also includes the “On Common Ground: a Personal Perspective on Public Space” campaign, which will showcase how everyday people use and experience public spaces in their communities.