Metro Park breathes new life into inner city

Metro Park breathes new life into inner cityJoburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau, with Mayoral Committee for Community Development Member Chris Vondo to his right, prepares to open Metro Park

The R16-million Metro Park has opened in the commercial and residential hub of Newtown, offering a social and recreational space to inner-city workers and residents who do not have the luxury of green spaces.

Trying out the new playground equipmentLehlohonolo Mkhalabi and his daughter Koketso try out the new playground equipmentThree-year-old inner city resident Koketso Mkhalabi was one of the first people to play at the brand new Metro Park when the facility opened its gates to the public on Friday, 19 September.

"It is actually good that our children now have somewhere to play," said Koketso's father, Lehlohonolo, who has spent the past many months keeping a close eye on the development of the park.

Previously, he and his family spent most of their leisure time cocooned in their apartment, with nowhere to go except for occasional visits to Joburg Zoo.

"I will be bringing my daughter to play here every day," Mkhalabi said.

Spearheaded by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) and Joburg City Parks and Zoo, the R16-million facility is situated in the midst of a commercial and residential hub and will serve as a recreation facility for inner-city employees and families who do not have the luxury of green spaces.

Situated between the Mandela Bridge and the Bree Taxi Rank in Newtown, the award-winning park features an outdoor gym and playground, an amphitheatre and lawn with picnic tables, and ablution facilities.

Opening day festivities

Residents get to grips with their new outdoor gymResidents get to grips with their new outdoor gymResidents from Newtown and the rest of the inner city turned out in numbers to witness the opening of their new recreation area. The park was a hive of activity, with school children trying out their new playground, getting their faces painted and posing for photos with stilt walkers.

Residents, including elderly women and people with disabilities, could be seen getting a handle on the outdoor gym equipment, while fitness fanatics demonstrated their aerobic skills to the beat of drums and the orders of instructors.

Not to be outdone, women wearing traditional knee-length Tsonga outfits shook their waists as they danced vigorously to music from the sound system, joined now and then by clowns who imitated their style.

The crowd was also treated to a lively performance by the African Umoja dance theatre troupe.

Kensley Uku, the owner of a nearby computer shop, thanked the government for the park. "Wow, this place is awesome! It is quite lovely," said Uku. "We are happy that the government can do this much for its people."

Corridors of Freedom

A social and recreational space for inner-city workers and residentsA social and recreational space for inner-city workers and residentsAddressing the crowd at the opening, Johannesburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau said the park was an important initiative in changing the environment of the inner city.

"This beautiful park represents an investment in the future of this community -it families and children," Tau said.  "We are committed to enhancing our city for the benefit of residents and visitors through providing additional leisure facilities."

Parks urged resident to put the outdoor gym to good use. "The leading cause of death in Johannesburg is lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. We need to take care of ourselves and bodies."

Chris Vondo, member of the Mayoral Committee for Community Development, said the new park was a critical component of Johannesburg's Corridors of Freedom Project.   

"The upgrading of parks along the Corridors of Freedom [routes] will have a positive effect on surrounding neighbourhoods, making them safer in that they will attract an increased number of visitors and thus help eliminate criminal elements," Vondo said.

He added that clean, people-friendly open spaces served as cosmopolitan meeting spaces which could integrated the disabled, the disadvantaged and the socially alienated.

"They are important in nurturing healthy and vibrant communities and therefore building a greater city."

Construction of Metro Park was concluded late last year, but the opening was delayed for various reasons.

At the South African Green Industries Council convention in Tshwane earlier this year, the SA Landscapers Institute recognised the facility as an excellent example of landscape design and construction.

Marina Landscaping, the company appointed to develop the park, were honoured with a Gold Award of Excellence in the "landscape construction with design by others" category.