MARY Fitzgerald Square in Newtown has been transformed. No longer simply a paved open plan area, it is now an exciting new space with drinking water fountains and grassy mounds.

Situated in the heart of Joburg’s arts and entertainment hub, the square is a prominent concert space and is regularly used for arts activities. It accommodates approximately 22 000 people and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, it was used as an official Fan Fest.

The upgrade, a Johannesburg Development Agency project, was funded by the City, at a cost of R12,7-million. The initial budget was R10-million but more money was allocated to the project for additional upgrades. Construction began in January.

The square is now aesthetically pleasing to the eye, according to Celestine Mouton, the JDA project manager. It is surrounded by restaurants, as well as the Workers’ Museum, Market Theatre and Museum Africa.

Work at the square included layer works, storm water reticulation, new paving and new lighting. Trees and grassy mounds were planted, and water fountains were installed. With these changes, it will continue to serve as a partying hot spot.

Mouton says the square will continue being used for concerts and events, but now families will also be able to use it for leisure. It will also be used as a parking facility for vehicles.

During construction, Mouton says the paving was dug up and new layer works and storm water reticulation was installed. This was necessary as the old paving was loose and lifted easily.

“The layer works were not sufficient for trucks to drive over. [After the upgrade] it will be more sustainable in the future.”

The square was named after Mary Fitzgerald, an Irish immigrant who became known as Pickhandle Mary. She made a name for herself in Joburg for her trade union activities and a number of firsts: she was the city’s first woman trade unionist, first woman printer and first woman city councilor.

The Joburg council approved the name Mary Fitzgerald Square in 1939 for the market square in Newtown. In 1986, a plaque was erected on the Museum Africa building, officially naming the square.