JUST a few months ago, Michael Fleming, a resident of Parktown, was devastated by the City’s decision to cut down trees along Empire Road.
The decision was taken to allow the road to be widened, which is necessary to accommodate the Rea Vaya network. “When I learnt that trees had to be cut down, I was sick to the heart,” Fleming said, his voice hesitant and emotional.
He was born and bred in Parktown and said he felt parts of his life go missing after the trees were cut down. Driving along the route became a painful ordeal for him, as he had to endure chopped branches and flattened stumps instead of the lush greenery that once defined the area.
To widen the road to accommodate Rea Vaya, 76 trees were removed from both sides of the road along Empire, between the Jan Smuts Avenue and Victoria Road intersections, over a distance of 0,97 kilometres, in 2010.
However, on Monday, 5 September, Fleming finally had something to smile about: the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), Joburg City Parks and Rea Vaya together replaced the street trees.
A total of 196 trees were planted along the stretch of Empire Road; some were also planted inside the boundaries of Parktown Boys’ High and Rand Girls schools.
Ruby Mathang, the member of the mayoral committee for development planning and urban management, said the City was committed to the greening and environmental sustainability of Joburg.
“We hope to promote environmental awareness among Johannesburg residents. While the construction of the Rea Vaya BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] reshapes the cityscape it should not have a negative impact on our environment.”
He said the Rea Vaya tree planting programme would provide a softer and more pleasing environment along the BRT route.
Together with the JDA’s CEO, Thanduxolo Mendrew and Ward 67 councillor Sihlwele Myeki, four trees were planted inside the grounds of Parktown Boys’ High School, the Rand Girls’ School and along the road.
Another Parktown resident, Dee Worman, said they were quite emotive about the loss of the trees at first. “[But] I am happy to see that the future of the environment is in safe hands,” she said.
Flo Bird, the chairperson of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust, spoke fondly of the trees that were cut down, and had some thoughts on their indigenous replacements.
“I love the acacia tree but I don’t think it will produce enough oxygen to absorb carbon dioxide,” she said. “They should have tried very hard to save the old trees because of their historical significance.”
Two species of indigenous tree, bush willow and paperback acacia, were planted by pupils from Rand Girls, Parktown Boys and the Parktown Residents Association. They are drought and frost resistant and known for growing fast.
The deputy principal of Rand Girls’ School, Mellanie Kallie, thanked the City for its contribution and the upliftment of children. “Our girls are subjected to the exhaust emissions for an average of four hours daily. The BRT represents a major turning point to how pollution would be minimised in the city centre.”
Charel Niemand, the principal of Parktown Boys High School, said it was a privilege to have indigenous trees planted along the borders of his school. “The new trees will bring some much needed greenery to the route and hopefully the birds and insects will come back into the area.”
Construction of the 1,3 kilometre BRT route started in October in 2010. It involves upgrading and widening the road between the Empire Road and Jan Smuts Avenue, and Empire and Victoria Road intersections, as well as the stretch of Empire from Victoria to Joubert and Sam Hancock streets.
Once finished, it will form part of the Rea Vaya north-south link between the first operational trunk route and the second, yet to be operational trunk route. This section is scheduled to be finished by the end of September.