The City of Cape Town unveiled its first blind-friendly park in Bellville this past week. The park has a unique design and special features, such as a scented garden and acoustic way-finding to assist children with limited or no vision to orientate themselves in this outdoor space.
The park is situated between Berol Street and Beroma Crescent, within walking distance of the Athlone School for the Blind.
Over the past five months Transport for Cape Town (TCT), the City’s transport authority, has used approximately R1,1 million from its budget for non-motorised transport to transform this square of sandy land into an inviting playground.
“Learners from the school have visited the park over the past few days to give the new play equipment and features a test-run. Some of the local residents even came to have a look and expressed their satisfaction, promising to take ownership of the park,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member: Transport for Cape Town, Councillor Brett Herron.
TCT’s non-motorised transport programme is aimed at improving pedestrian facilities across Cape Town. As such, the park has been fitted with universal access – dropped kerbs and tactile paving – along both roads, making it easier for those with limited eye sight to enter the grounds in the suburb of Beroma in Bellville.
“All children can play in the park. However, what makes this playground different is that we have used the same elements that you would find in other parks and implemented them in such a way so that children with limited vision or no sight can find their way between the different play areas. Thus, we have designed the park with special needs in mind and with the intention of giving these children the opportunity to interact with other children who are not visually impaired,” added Councillor Herron.
Apart from the input that was received from five community meetings, officials also engaged with the local ward councillors, the Athlone School for the Blind, and a mobility expert on how those with limited eye sight “read” public spaces.
“First of all we have divided the park into smaller play areas. To assist with navigation, we have created a scented garden with indigenous plants such as lavender, wild garlic and rosemary where the park borders on Beroma Crescent. Once the garden is established and the plants fully grown, they will release a fragrance as legs brush past, stimulating the smell organ,” mentioned Councillor Herron.
Low-seating walls, cutting across the park, assist with acoustic way-finding – the echoes enable one to determine your location through hearing as the sound of feet and walking sticks reverberate off the walls.
An extensive relief mural has been installed on the seating walls.
“Each mural tells a different story. For example, there is the story of how a seed or pod travels by wind and with the help of birds to the place where it will sprout and eventually bloom. Another mural tells the story of the worker bees, how they build their hives and care for the queen bee. The stories are depicted through mosaic, enabling those with impaired sight to ‘read’ the stories on the walls by following the mosaic- and tactile art with their fingers,” said Councillor Herron.
A goal ball court, enclosed with a fence and seating walls, is situated in the northeastern corner of the park for a game played by blind people in particular. The court can also be used for other activities. Opposite the games court are trees and a lawn for picnics and informal games.
A variety of paving materials, each leading to a different play area, guide the children to the following spaces:
• a play area with asphalt humps for small bikes and scooters;
• an area with wooden play equipment, slides, and swings on rubber matting to stimulate balance, encourage mobility, build confidence and improve muscle tone;
• play equipment within a fenced area, making it easier to tend to pre-school children in what can be described as a separate “room”.