The ongoing, multi-million rand revamp of the Walter Sisulu Square of Declaration in Kliptown, Soweto will act as a catalyst for new economic growth and development in the area, according to Andrew Luke of Gapp Architects and Urban Designers. Rudo Mungoshi reports.

Andrew Luke of Gapp Architects and Urban DesignersAndrew Luke of Gapp Architects and Urban Designers briefs City of Joburg officials on progress with the upgrade in May this year.Luke, whose company has been contracted by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) to implement the revamp, said he is confident that the upgraded Square and recently opened Freedom Charter Gardens will draw in new businesses and create new employment opportunities for surrounding communities.

The R20-million first phase of the upgrade was completed in June, in time for the celebrations that marked the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter. Adopted by the Congress of the People in Kliptown on 26 June 1955, the Charter is widely regarded as the foundation of South Africa’s 1996 Constitution, and remains the cornerstone of African National Congress (ANC) policy to this day.

Walter Sisulu Square of DedicationExtensive green landscaping was introduced to soften the hard open space at the Square. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)Guided by the JDA, Gapp created the Freedom Charter Gardens, softening the hard open space of the Square with the introduction of landscaped grass, trees and flowerbeds.

“We also installed sign boards at the entrance that give a brief history of the Square, and planted indigenous plants that are already attracting amazing birdlife,” Luke said, adding that the redesign had made other buildings in the Square visible for the first time in years.

In carrying out their redesign, the overriding objective was to make the facility more attractive for all of its current and potential users, including local residents and traders, as well as tourists and investors.

For this, they drew inspiration from the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia, one of the city’s most popular outdoor recreational venues, as well as from Central Park, the most visited urban green space in middle-upper Manhattan, New York.

Art work at the SquareOne of the new artworks at the Square. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)
“Our design of the Park was also influenced by looking at people’s behaviour; we wanted the Square to be appealing to all ages and income groups,” said Luke. “We believe in an inclusive society in which everybody has a space.”

He pointed out that the Square has already begun experiencing a new energy and vibrancy. “It has been rewarding to see locals embrace the new Square and start using it to its potential.”

Lighting in and around the Square has also been improved, and a CCTV camera network has been installed, along with new cabling at the Visitors’ Centre.

“The idea we had in mind was to turn the Square into a heart of the centre that would stimulate further investment in the area.”

The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication was officially opened by then President Thabo Mbeki on 26 June 2005The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication was officially opened by then President Thabo Mbeki on 26 June 2005, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)
Regarding the second phase of the upgrade, Luke said they were busy conducting workshops with local traders and City of Joburg officials to determine how best to proceed with work on new and/or existing trading areas around the Square.

Executive Mayor Parks Tau, unveiling the new-look Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication and Freedom Charter Gardens on 23 June, announced that the City would be investing R677-million over the next three years in the further development of Kliptown, in particular to support the City’s human settlement development work in the area.

“Work on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication will be on strategic interventions, supporting the activation of this public space, and improving the functioning of community and urban management systems.”

Sign boards installed at the entrance share the rich history of the Square with visitorsSign boards installed at the entrance share the rich history of the Square with visitors. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)Mayor Tau said this would build on the City’s work in Kliptown between 2010 and 2014. In this period, R60-million had been spent on extending the City’s public environment upgrades to the residential and business areas surrounding Walter Sisulu Square, and in particular on:

• Refurbishing the Kliptown Study Centre, Creche, Community Hall and Youth Centre.

• Updgrading the Union Road pedestrian bridge and installing new ramps across the railway line.

• Creating a safe pedestrian walkway along the western side of the railway line, with new lighting installed and 600 metres of paving laid.

• Upgrading Union Road, Beacon Road, Main Road, 1st to 4th Avenue, Future Road and Affodil Street, as well as Klipspruit Valley Road and the Northern Precinct.

The purpose of these upgrades, Mayor Tau said, had been “to create an improved environment for economic activity in the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication neighbourhood, to create a safe environment for pedestrians walking to public transport services, and to improve or rehabilitate basic municipal services such as storm water drainage and street lighting”.

A space for everybody’It has been rewarding to see locals embrace the new Square and start using it to its potential.’ (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VERSION)The Square remained central to all this work, however. In the upgraded Square and its new gardens, Mayor Tau said, “we envision not only the people of Kliptown but also those of Greater Soweto and Johannesburg using the facilities for social and other events that will promote community interaction and social cohesion.”

Development Planning MMC Roslyn Greeff, speaking at the same occasion, said the City looked forward to “a transformed Kliptown as the years progress.

“This will reflect in the public environment upgrades, housing developments, and future use of the Walter Sisulu Square and Freedom Charter Gardens as the centre of human activity and economic development in the area of Kliptown.”