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Cape Town’s First Outdoor Blind-Friendly Park in Bellville

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Cape Town’s First Outdoor Blind-Friendly Park in Bellville

A new Northern Suburbs playground specifically designed for children and community members with limited or no vision

Mother City residents – especially those living within the Northern Suburbs region – will be happy to know that the City of Cape Town and Transport for Cape Town (TCT) have finally (we’ve been excited for months waiting for the public announcement) unveiled an all-new inspiring and very much-needed – not to mention, first-ever – addition to our pretty metropolitan: Cape Town’s first Outdoor Blind-Friendly Park.

Located in Bellville (between Berol Street and Beroma Crescent) – and within walking distance of the Athlone School for the Blind – the play area has been in the making for the last five months and was officially opened to community members on Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Headed by the TCT, it was stated that the city’s transport authority used approximately R1.1 million (that was left over from its budget for non-motorised transport) to transform the once sandy square of land into an inviting and safe playground and environment for the visually impaired and visually abled children and residents of Bellville.

“If you drive around the area you would see that we have upgraded all of the sidewalks with special-needs pedestrians in mind – there are tactile paving and dropped curbs.  After doing such, we had some budget leftover and after engaging with the Athlone School for the Blind they identified that they needed a play area,” explains the city’s Mayoral Committee Member: Transport for Cape Town, Councillor Brett Herron.

In essence, the TCT’s non-motorised transport programme is aimed at improving pedestrian facilities throughout the city. The new park has therefore been specifically fitted with universal access – as mentioned, dropped curbs proving easy access to the area and tactile paving for mobility and safety – along both the roads therefore making it a lot easier for members with limited eyesight to enter the grounds.

“We saw this empty space and decided to create this park as part of the project,” Councillor Herron continues. “All the sidewalks lead the children here [a path of special tactile pavers connects the school to the park] and now they can play.”

A first for Cape Town, the new alfresco playground and area is open to all community members, however, what makes this space so different (and incredibly special) is that the city has specifically designed the park with special needs in mind and with the intention of giving such individuals the opportunity to interact and engage with others who are visually abled. Although the park uses the same elements – swings, slides, jungle gyms and more – one would find in any other park in the city, each feature has been implemented in such a way that residents with little or no vision can easily find their way between the various play areas.

The park has been divided into smaller closed-off play areas where low-seating walls, cutting across the grounds, have been added to help assist with acoustic way-finding. The sounds of feet walking reverberate off the walls and the echoes enable one to determine their location through hearing. Along the seating walls, an extensive relief mural has also been installed.

Curated by Lovell Friedman, who works within communities designing murals for parks, libraries and hospitals as well as conducts workshops for its members, each mural tells a different story. The educational tales include how a seedpod travels by wind and with the help of birds to the place where it will sprout and grow as well as the story of the worker bees and how they build hives and care for their queen.

“All of the stories are depicted by mosaic designs [some of the Athlone School children were involved with the making of the clay designs and moulds], those with impaired sight can feel and following the walls ‘reading’ the various stories,” explains Lovell. “It is truly a labour of love.”

The outdoor playground comprises a variety of unique paving materials which helps to guide visually impaired children to the various areas. Such spaces include a fenced-off zone with asphalt humps ideal for small bikes and scooters, an enclosed rubber matted-space (to help stimulate balance, encourage mobility, build confidence and improve muscle tone) comprising a wooden jungle gym complete with a slide, ropes and bridge, two swing sets, a see-saw and monkey-bars as well as a fenced games court space with seating walls.

Opposite the games court there are also beautiful large shady trees as well as a lawn area ideal for picnics and informal games. What’s more, to assist with navigation, a scented garden with indigenous plants such as lavender, wild garlic and rosemary has also been planted along the park’s border of Beroma. Once the garden has developed, this area will help stimulate an individual’s smell organ as a beautiful fragrance will be released when they brush passed the various plants and bushes.

“We were told small interventions make the world’s difference for those without eyesight when they have to move around in outdoor spaces. We have tried to transform this open space and we are very proud of what we have achieved. I am confident that it will be used and enjoyed by all of the children from the local community,” concludes Councillor Herron.

NOTE: All children and community members – the visually impaired and visually able – can play and use the park.

Tip: When visiting the park, take your time to view the beautiful murals found on the walls surrounded the play area. Each mural tells a different story that can be read by all by following the mosaic- and tactile art with your fingers.

The Bill:  FREE. There is no charge to use the outdoor play area and park.

Opening Hours: Daily

Between Berol Street and Beroma Crescent | Bellville | Cape Town

by Krysia Gaweda

Image Credit: Josh Oates

Video Credit: Josh Oates

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