Sunday, 10 July 2011

Jo'burg before

Running and driving around Jo'burg I often imagine what this city was like before it was a city - back in the days when gold had just been discovered and the suburbs were farms. Grasslands with antelope, many hills with valleys and streams and a number of bigger perennial rivers like the Braamfontein Spruit and Jukskei.

Jo'burg is such a stupidly planned city. The rivers and streams have been cannelised and we have no major green belt areas; with the exception of the Braamfontein Spruit from Emmarentia and through Delta Park and up towards the N1. It is no longer continuous though and there are places where I've gotten stuck. There's also the Sandspruit (I think) behind Rivonia; but the land on either side is either minimal or poorly maintained in most places.

I have this image in my mind of a better-planned Jo'burg where the rivers were open with 50-100 metres of  open ground/park on either side for outdoor activities and as pedestrian/runner/biker commuting thoroughfares.

In planning my recent Metrogaine from Zoo Lake, I happened upon the Parkhurst Residents Association website where I found some old maps drawn when the suburb began and the land was divided into plots (see the History page). But, even more interesting was the section, written by a resident, on the Parkhurst Donga (see Environment page - scroll down - Jan '07).

In short, the author noticed that people living half-way up her road were on the market every few years. Sections of Parkhurt are built over the Parkhurst Donga.

Underneath Parkhurst, there is a network of storm water drains that carry stormwater and anything dumped in the streets (like trash, old bottles, engine oil, swimming pool water, dog pooh, etc) to the Braamfontein Spruit. And underneath the water drainage channels, they also carry much of our sewerage down to the main sewerage pipe that runs along the western bank of the Spruit.
This system was started in the southern end of Parkhurst (ie Little Chelsea and the streets running up to about 16th Street) in 1930s and completed in the northern end (16-22 Streets) by the early 1950s when the suburb was finally fully developed. 
50-70 years on and things have changed. The sewerage system has aged; trees have got bigger and are causing problems with their roots; more of the suburb has been concreted and paved which increases run-off; never ending building means sand and pebbles are carried into the system; and new granny flats and en suite bathrooms increase the waste water load. All this has meant that our underground water systems have become overloaded and degraded. 
By far the worst offender in the Parkhurst pollution stakes is the infamous Parkhurst Donga. This donga runs diagonally for several kilometres from the intersection with the Braamfontein Spruit between 19th and 20th Streets where it crosses into Parktown North around 13th Street and then continues into Rosebank. Until it was canalised and eventually covered in the 1950s, it effectively cut off the northern third of Parkhurst from development. 
The properties that straddled this donga were the last to sell in Parkhurst.
The donga was covered over and theur are houses, roads and gardens over it.

The author (I don't know who the author of this post is) walked up the donga a few years ago with a caving friend and noted a lot of erosion and damage from storm-water runoff along with greater sewerage loads. The sewerage pipes are too small to cope with the load from Rosebank, Parktown North and through Parkhurst. So, there's a not so lovely mix of storm water mixes, waste water, poop and toilet paper and ends up in the Braamfontein Spruit.

Residents who live over the donga have a big problem with damp and smelly drains (odours coming up from the donga); same with bad smells coming from nearby storm-water drains.

On the site was a reference to a 1952 aerial photo of the suburb. I couldn't find it anywhere on the site and so I emailed Tim Truluck, who is the environmental guy and also a councillor for the area. He kindly sent me the aerial photos from 1942 and 1952. Fascinating. I've pulled off a Google Earth image of the same area. I've made it black&white for comparison (old and newer photos on GE - right down the middle). Right-click and open the image in another tab. That should give you the full-size image to look at.

Amazing eh? Jo'burg in 1942 would have been incredible for mountain biking, trail running, horse riding...

On this topic of what places use to be like...

This an amazing video of a TED Talk by Eric Sanderson. He wondered what the island of Manhattan looked like before it became the concrete jungle that is is now. Really, really good.

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