De Smidt Street Park People pick up certificate of recognition

The De Smidt Street Park is a lush and secret pocket park, which you can glimpse as you drive up Strand Street past the Quarry, and which you enter from a cul de sac at the top of the De Smidt Street steps. Or rather, that is what it is now: previously it was either a lush meadow of wintergrass (in winter) or a dustbowl (in summer).

Following a ward allocation from our previous councillor, Cllr Dave Bryant, the De Waterkant Civic Association Management Committee swung into action and formed a volunteer park group.

The logic was this: the City allocation, though generous, would only go so far. It would go so much further if, rather than spending money on contractors, the residents – who, after all, are the beneficiaries of the work – got involved and did what manual work we could. That way, the entire budget could be allocated to horticulture.

Former Mancom member Helet Merkling introduced the park to well-known landscaper Johan van Papendorp who  very kindly, and pro bono, prepared a design sketch to guide the thinking. Trips to the City’s nursery followed, chair-led by energy bunny Krisjan Roussouw and garden guy Niels Colesky. Trees, plants and various (primarily waterwise and indigenous) species were chosen, and logistics were sorted by current councillor, Cllr Ian McMahon, and Spider Clark, chair of the DWCA. The Green Point CID, led by the ever-supportive Marc Truss, donated paving and astroturf for the play equipment. Kris created a flowing bedding plan; Niels brought staff in and prepared the ground, doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

And the plantathon took place over the course of a balmy Saturday.

It was a magical day, an all-in-all bringing together of people right in the time of Covid. Our councillor was among those who were up to their elbows in mud. Individuals within the community adopted beds, and created edgings from prunings from the big trees in the park. Spar discounted what we needed to provide boerewors rolls and other refreshments to keep spirits up; Villagers popped in with doughnuts and Coke to keep us keeping on. More holes were dug; shrubs and trees were planted; and for weeks, the community protected the work done by watering the vulnerable new plantings by lugging buckets. A compost heap was constructed which within a few short months was “giving back” and enriching the soil in the park. Ultimately, the community also fund-raised for more plantings, and for irrigation – then rostered for irrigation duty.

Neighbours who had not before known one anothers’ names, now also recognise one anothers’ dogs by name. While we created a park for the enjoyment of all, we also created a new quality of community, at just the time Covid was driving isolation and loneliness across the world.

“I’m so proud to have witnessed this group of active citizens and residents, who have forged friendships, created a community-led park project, and celebrated ubuntu in De Waterkant,” wrote Cllr McMahon (quietly understating his own role in making it happen). “For this collaborative, community-driven notion of working for the betterment of a public open space for all – I award The De Waterkant Park Volunteers Group with a certificate of recognition.”

Niels collected it on behalf of the Park People at an awards ceremony at the City this week.

The commitment continues to run high. The DWCA is sponsoring labour fortnightly to continue the heavy-lifting maintenance (mowing, weeding, composting) which Niels oversees pro bono; WJ Bruwer and his dad, Izak, sponsor every other week. Among plants which have been donated are two avocado trees, grown from pips, named Mary and Barbie after two of the stalwarts of the Park People. Granadilla vines are starting to climb along the hedges, in years to come to provide a bounty for visitors to the park.

If you haven’t been to the park yet – Thursday late afternoons are often a good time to come along, and feel the magic.