WHAT were once derelict sites in the inner city have been transformed into places where young and old can share and enjoy a place of safety and tranquillity.

Since 2008, The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) has transformed various locations in the inner city into parks with various sporting codes but none as prevalent as the popular five-a-side soccer pitches.

Joy Jacobs, Development Manager for JDA said, “We were working on park upgrades and had consulted on why the sand pitches were not viable. The sand pitches would get drenched after rains and the sand would also be lost so we decided to make them out of turf which has a longer life expectancy; is softer than concrete, so its child friendly and easier to maintain.”

The agency has erected pitches in and around the inner city at the following parks: Peter Roos Park, which has two pitches; Donald Mackay Park; J.Z. de Villiers Park; Alec Gorshel Park; Ekhaya Park; Bertrams Park; Fuller Park and End Street Park, which also have two pitches respectfully. In total the inner City has 10 five-a-side pitches for children to play at.

Colourful graffiti and play equipment for Bertrams ParkColourful graffiti and play equipment for Bertrams Park At Bertrams Park, which was upgraded between late 2008 and early 2009, Mahero Moloi, a builder, has been commissioned to repair the field. Moloi said, “Usually it’s full after school with young boys making up teams and playing knockout games.”

Bertrams Park has ablution facilities; swings for smaller children; a basketball and netball court and the five-a-side pitch. Its surrounding walls are adorned in graffiti and is neat with no glass or litter in site.

“I feel it is good to have such parks in the inner city as it adds recreational value to living in the area. It is also good because five-a-side soccer has league and the boys can always play and be busy, thus taking them away from the streets and an unhealthy life,” added Moloi.

Further down the road is Fuller Park, although it is not as tidy as Bertrams Park, it still has children from the nearby school, Troyeville Primary, playing there. It’s situated near a neighbourhood of derelict flats and little Guilliano Strydom who lives nearby is playing soccer by himself on the pitch.

The soccer pitch at Bertrams Park, with art work and treesThe soccer pitch at Bertrams Park, with art work and trees Strydom said, “I’m waiting for my friends to come so we can play soccer. We usually play after schools and weekends.”

While Strydom is playing, Marcus Lucking, from Sophiatown Community Psychological Services arrives to play soccer with the boy and his friends.

Lucking said, “This is our second week here and we are trying to establish a team here. We usually also bring fresh fruit and juice for the kids to refresh while playing soccer.

“For me it is important to have parks because they foster nice child growth because instead of them being in an area where they cannot be supervised, we have them here and busy with mental and physical stimulation,” added Lucking.

End Street park becomes a gathering place after schoolEnd Street park becomes a gathering place after school End-Street Park is a hive of activity especially for local children, because it is surrounded by schools in nearby buildings. The park thus acts as a recreational area for the nearby schools as they do not have fields for the children to play.

End-Street Park has ablution facilities; a basketball and netball court; swings for the younger children and two five-a-side soccer pitches.

Theophilus Nkomo, who is playing soccer with his friends said, “I usually play soccer here twice a week, this is where we get to relax our minds after school instead of running around in the streets and being naughty.

“These parks are good because some of our schools are in buildings and we do not have recreational facilities … at least we can wait for school to finish and then we can have a place to go release all this energy in our bodies,” added Nkomo.

Mpho Masemola, another scholar said, “This is where we play soccer and the stakes are high because we bet money and the winner takes all.”

It is evident by the happy faces and playful activities that the The Johannesburg Development Agency has made a significant difference to the lives of many children who would otherwise be left without physical or social interaction.