The inaugural seminar organised by William BELLO and the team at WC1A Consulting took place on
Monday November 30th, 2015. The event was held in an elegant hall at the British Language Institute at Akwa, Douala. On the menu for the day, were presentations from two dynamic trailblazers who are alumni of the Cameroon Leadership Academy’s 4th badge. Temta Alice Michelle presented on national recreational parks, whilst Armand Yomi presented on national public gardens.
As an environmental social enterprise, our primary objective was to sensitise the youth on this crucial issue, and to galvanise their participation in finding innovative ways of improving our urban and rural outdoors. Admittedly, African localities are very deficient in spacious green outdoor spaces. Public parks and gardens are integral to any locality including a “red-brick” city like Pretoria, a “wet-paint” city like Lagos or even a “dusty-foot” town like Kumba.
The great outdoors represent a huge importance for our human existence, and are critical in arbitrating our natural ecosystems. These green national monuments are symbolic of sustainable development and growth. They are a hubbub of heritage, culture and an assortment of history shouting out under the sun, and singing loud in the rain. These natural treasures are of economic, cultural and especially environmental value.
In her presentation on the subject of national recreational parks, Miss Temta rightfully pointed to the definitive difference between national reserve parks and national recreational parks. She defined national reserve parks as open space natural areas that harbour animals. The animals are generally kept in a manner to simulate life in the wild, unlike zoos where animals are kept in cages and other artificial habitats. National reserve parks are often declared protected zones in a bid to preserve their natural ecology and their biodiversity. Examples of these protected national reserve parks in Cameroon include the: Waza National Park, Dja Wildlife Reserve, Korup National Reserve and Campo Reserve.
Recreational parks were defined as a large area of land preserved in their natural state as public property or, as secondary vegetation in open space used recreationally for amusement, leisure or relaxation. The most notable example in Cameroon was the Base Elf public park at the banks of the Wouri in Douala. Sadly this historic site was traded for a cement production unit owned by Aliko Dangote, ending years of local heritage and history. The secondary forest park in Yaoundé is the most contemporary green urban investment in Cameroon.
Recreational parks are very vital to the social construct and play an important role in the ecology and
environmental conservation of any settlement. Firstly, they revitalise the community by providing a common ground for rencounter or pass-time. They are generally very family-friendly and accommodate vulnerable persons like the very young and the very elderly. As such communities become more convivial especially in the big city.
Furthermore, they encourage the community to engage in auspicious green activity. Going green entails numerous aspects of a sustainable lifestyle, and particularly the notion of sanitation and fighting pollution. It is critical for the community to ascertain its waste production and management. It is evident the amount of filth and contamination present throughout Douala and other major urban localities principally in Cameroon. Public parks are a real solution to the sound and waste pollution, whereby trees absorb the sound and gases, and people mobilise to keep their parks clean using infrastructures like public bins and toilets.
Additionally, these public parks advance public health and can be a substitute for conventional classrooms for learning. At a time when technology is creating more and more couch-potatoes and “desktop zombies”, public parks are a great way of encouraging the public to go outside and enjoy the open spaces. Outdoor exercises and activities are a fundamental way of gaining knowledge as well as reducing obesity that entrails other health complications like cardiac arrests or diabetes amongst the youth and adults.
Africa is in an ascent and its major economic cities like Douala or Lagos are hotbeds for new foreign direct investments. Creating such green spaces is a way of soliciting investors. Modernising these cities to green-friendly standards encourages tourism and other expatriate business activities. The population of Lagos which is 5 times that of Douala stands at circa 5.2 million inhabitants and growing. The economic growth of these cities attracts numerous rural settlers to the urban towns in search of financial satisfaction. Accommodating this population requires public parks to regulate the environmental activities present in such expanding cities.
As founder of a similar bio-eco start-up, Armand Yomi was the perfect candidate to discuss on the subject of national public gardens before a group of curious young professionals. Choosing to spare the audience an elaborate definition of public gardens, the presentation delved more or less instantly into the nuances present in creating a public garden in the city. His presentation vied particularly towards his practical experience on the field, with the use of several personal references as well as others’ testimonies.
Connecting the dots between theory and practice, Armand quickly addressed the fact that it was onto the state to authorise the creation of a public garden. He pointed the fact that it was open to the public to initiate such public interest initiatives, even though; it was more precisely the job of the local city council to green light the creation of such a project. Whereas many private and public figures were full of positive ideas and enthusiastic about creating beautiful outdoors, numerous factors are to be considered when deliberating on this matter.
Whether it is for the creation of a recreational public park or a national public garden, the steps to follow are principally equal. The bureaucracy to adhere to does not change much the one from the other. In many situations, the local council authorised to administer the works would deliberate on certain key pointers in order to ascertain the viability of the project. In this situation a scale placing practicality versus purpose is presented. A comparison of the social versus the financial ROI is used to determine whether or not to invest. Social being the sustainability, while financial is the profitability.
Many local city councils he affirmed were well informed and aware of the ecological and environmental advantage of key botanic plants; nonetheless, they stymied any investments in these projects because they placed financial comfort above environmental cost. More so, individuals were prohibited from engaging in any works on open public spaces without state permission; the latter is famously known to take forever.
Sustainability was a term Armand choose to emphasise greatly on, pointing the light strictly on the role of public gardens in promoting a sustainable environment and society. He stated that the creation of gardens was a way of preserving the myriad of plant biodiversity current in the country, and to encourage the growth of new species. It is a chance to expand the outdoor green cover and reduce CO2 emissions into the earth’s atmosphere. He mentioned that at a time when humanity faces water and food insecurity public gardens were a great laboratory for new crops and methods of water conservation and purification. Public gardens are significant in ensuring the sustainable development of African societies.
Ultimately recreational public parks likewise national public gardens are phenomenal for any locality to find itself and identify its personality as it represents a way of expressing their existence and culture through their natural biological beauty. Both share similar benefits to human existence. Falling under the charm of living in greener beautiful cities, we conceived the idea of two potential exquisite sites to create a new public park and public garden in the city of Douala. The two sites chosen by our speakers were the water channel situated in Yassa at the city entrance, and the area around the popular Paco Vita sports venue at Bonamoussadi.
These places represent strategic choices by the presenters who had great visions in deciding for these places. In her mind, Alice wanted to clean up the much polluted water to help prevent clogging causing floods and illnesses. She envisioned cleaning up the dirty water with the use of plants at the edge of the water whose roots would help purify the water. Furthermore, she would assign the recycling and replacement of the floating non-biodegradable plastic bottles by plastic boats to encourage visitors to peddle their ride along the park and exercise at the same time. She would also ornate the surrounding with soft mown grass and an artistic decor that would encourage the community to bask in sun outdoors. The area would remind of the heydays of the Kyriakides Park in Yaounde.
Armand’s idea was to transform the currently distressed landscape into a more vive area. By targeting a prominent leisure site such as this, he aimed to create a beautiful juxtaposition of fitness and relaxation. That exquisite melange creates a phenomenal sports centre, an atmosphere that is simultaneously obstacles and colourful. Flowers, fountains, monuments and benches alongside an assortment of sport courts and playground fixtures would render the place tidy and clean.
To realise our concept of establishing parks that would ensure our outdoors are maximised and our environment is sustained, key factors are needed to build a working strategy. The first factor is to ensure a financial ROI. Monetisation is critical for survival and this can be done by democratising stakeholder contribution and inspection by the wider public. Cash and kind contribution especially via CSR and volunteerism are vital for park longevity. Next, it is important to unlock contemporary technologies and expose a Pandora box of opportunities for an eco-friendly environment. Leveraging technological know-how and business models would hugely promote the endeavour. Lastly, giving the parks a theme of the city’s vision is a fundamental way of preserving its pedigree. The concept of the public garden or recreational park should align with the city’s vision and display its heritage like the core city symbol.