Failing system

Florence de Vries, Bellville

I have lived in Bellville for most of my adult life and, in 2015, bought my first home here in the same year my daughter was born.

I have, over the course of the past three years, enjoyed taking her for walks, and, with irrepressible excitement, each year in late winter and early spring, took the trouble to show her the splendour of the incredible flora in and around our very own neighbourhood in Boston, Bellville.

Decades of improper mowing have removed the rare orchids, proteas and other special plants this part of the Cape Flats was known for, but bounteous fields of orange and white daisies as well as a mass flowering of botterblomme are still within walking distance, no need to trek to the West Coast or Namaqualand.

For the first time in her 2-year old life, I will have nothing to show my daughter this year. Why? The parks where these flowers grow (Loevenstein Park and Blomvlei/Lincoln Road) were recently mowed to within an inch of their lives.

There is nothing. The seeds of these flowers will not be able to add to next year’s display because they have been cut down just before their reproductive prime.

I don’t know what the protocols or schedules are for mowing public spaces, but I really, really want to ask that these “clean-ups” take place in a systemic way.

That is to say, recognise the biodiversity and aesthetics of the areas we are raising our children in, and realise that, with slight adjustments, you can make a difference in the preservation of the remnant flora endemic to these spaces.

I am asking on behalf of everyone who has recognised the unbridled joy the sight of a field of flowers can bring and, more specifically, on behalf of little ones, who still have a chance to grow up seeing this wonder of nature right in their own backyard.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security and social services, responds:

The arrival of spring brings forth an explosion of annuals and perennials which germinate during the warmer temperatures. Many residents contend that the flowers should be left untouched and not mowed until the seeds have ripened and dropped. Mowing always causes contention and there are opposing views on whether the areas should be mowed to look neater, or if the wild flowers should be left undisturbed for the enjoyment of residents. Every year during spring the City receives requests and complaints in support of both points of view.

The City’s recreation and parks department makes every effort to keep our parks and sidewalks tidy across over 6 461 hectares of land that requires maintenance. However, there are some open areas throughout the city (including identified biodiversity areas or spring flowering parks) where mowing does not take place. To date, Loevenstein Park and Blomvlei/Lincoln Road have not been designated as spring flowering parks, therefore mowing takes place normally. In light of the email received from Ms De Vries, the City will review mowing in these areas in order to preserve the blooming of the natural flora.

Generally, if residents want us to stop cutting grass in a certain park, they need to submit their request in writing with signatures of support from neighbours, indicating that the surrounding community supports the request. We will then issue an instruction to our staff to desist from mowing those parks while the spring flowers are in bloom (ie. September and October). The only risk is that we may receive complaints from people who feel that the uncut grass is untidy and is not being properly maintained. Due to the conducive weather conditions of spring, fast growth of grass can be expected. It should also be noted that the sidewalks would still need to be cut in order to ensure that safety standards are upheld and there is clear visibility for pedestrians and motorists.

The City is committed to making Cape Town an inclusive place where residents feel safe and proud of their parks. We should also not minimise the impact that the drought over the past years has had in reducing seed germination or flowering as much as in previous years when there was enough water. We will truly see the impact in September and October. At the moment it is still winter and the flowers that bloom now are sporadic due to the sudden warm weather and recent rainfall.