Regional Parks for Social Cohesion in the City of Cape Town

Regional Parks for Social Cohesion in the City of Cape Town

Résumé en français

Les parcs de Wynberg et de Nantes sont deux parcs régionaux qui jouent un rôle essentiel dans le réseau vert de la ville du Cap, en offrant des espaces luxuriants pour la détente, les loisirs et les activités communautaires.

Ces parcs ont une riche valeur historique et ont évolué pour répondre aux besoins changeants des habitants. Le parc de Wynberg est connu pour ses installations bien entretenues qui encouragent les interactions sociales entre divers groupes, contribuant ainsi à la cohésion sociale. Les visiteurs ressentent un fort sentiment d'appartenance à ce parc en raison de son offre variée de loisirs. D'autre part, le parc de Nantes, qui a fait l'objet d'investissements importants, a connu un développement immédiat, créant un espace vert complet et attrayant qui améliore la qualité de vie de la communauté locale. Ces deux parcs contribuent à la santé environnementale de la ville, mais ils n'ont pas encore pleinement intégré l'approche multifonctionnelle du nouveau paradigme qui intègre la biodiversité, la sécurité alimentaire et les pratiques durables. Leur conception reflète les fonctions traditionnelles des parcs, avec la possibilité d'intégrer davantage les objectifs du nouveau paradigme pour servir la communauté dans un contexte écologique et social plus large.

Wynberg and Nantes Parks are two regional parks that play a vital role in the green network of Cape Town, providing lush spaces for relaxation, leisure, and community activities. These parks have a rich historical value and have evolved to meet the changing needs of the residents. Wynberg Park is known for its well-maintained facilities that encourage social interactions among diverse groups, contributing to social cohesion. Visitors feel a strong sense of belonging here because of the park's varied recreational offerings. On the other hand, Nantes Park, with significant investment, has seen immediate development, creating a comprehensive and attractive green space that enhances the local community's quality of life. Both parks contribute to the city's environmental health but are yet to fully embody the multifunctional approach of the new paradigm. Their designs reflect traditional park functions, with the potential for further integration of the new paradigm's objectives to serve the community in a broader ecological and social context.


Parks play a crucial role in promoting social cohesion within communities, providing spaces for individuals to connect with nature, engage in physical activities, and interact with others in a shared public space. In this comparative case study, we explore the dynamics of social cohesion within two regional parks, Wynberg Park and Nantes Park, by unpacking and reflecting on the development process over the last decade. By assessing the approach to design, infrastructure development and community engagement, we aim to gain insights into the potential of regional parks to promote social cohesion within the green network of Cape Town. The study  contributes to our understanding of the role that regional parks play in fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness within diverse urban communities (Jennings & Bamkole, 2019).

A significant contributor to the City of Cape Town’s green fabric is the public open space and park network managed by the Recreation and Parks Department. The department manages and maintains over 3500 parks, undeveloped public open spaces, and greenbelts. The network of parks has been organised into a functional hierarchy, which aims to provide high-quality accessible facilities to all residents of the City at different scales. These categories are Metropolitan, Regional, Community, and Neighbourhood Parks. Greenpoint Park is an example of a Metropolitan Park, and cities will generally have one park of this status. Each category of park is defined by a set of criteria namely, size, accessibility, and infrastructure provision. The City of Cape Town currently has 15 Regional Parks. (Figure 1).

The 15 Regional Parks in the city represent a significant component of the urban green fabric, each serving as a unique and valuable gem that, when considered collectively, encapsulates a holistic approach to urban sustainability and resilience.

Together, these parks reflect a shifting paradigm toward multifunctionality, climate resilience (Brunetta et al., 2021), and social equity; principles growing increasingly vital in urban planning and environmental stewardship. As an interconnected network, they offer more than just recreation and aesthetics; they function as critical infrastructures for urban ecosystems, providing services such as stormwater management, air purification, and temperature regulation. Simultaneously, they serve as frontiers for community engagement and inclusion, ensuring that the benefits of green spaces are equitably distributed across diverse populations. The collective influence of these parks extends well beyond their boundaries, contributing to the health and well-being of the entire city. This response to contemporary environmental and social challenges (Brunetta et al., 2021) demonstrates how the green fabric of the city is an adaptive and dynamic tapestry that supports the city's resilience against the pressures of climate change and urbanisation while fostering community and ecological well-being.

Figure 1: Locality Map of regional parks in the Metropolitan context


Regional parks are defined as the premier parks of the city, serving as key agents in enhancing social cohesion, and allowing people to immerse themselves in nature. Regional Parks are large public open spaces with varying and often higher quality infrastructural elements and unique natural features, and act as ‘destination parks’ catering to a broad range of community needs. They often have unique natural elements such as rivers, water bodies, or wetlands. The parks should be located close to public facilities and activities and easily accessible via public transport. Opportunities to enhance economic viability should be explored. The definition of regional parks is based on a set of functional and infrastructural criteria, as defined by the Recreation and Parks Department (City Parks Categorisation, 2016).

Wynberg Park and Nantes Park have had significant investments previously, albeit in different approaches, the latter being a large capital injection in 2013. A Landscape Masterplan was developed in 2012 for Wynberg Park and followed an approach of incremental implementation over several years. The approach to capital investment has had a direct impact on the management, maintenance, usage, and community involvement. (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2: Wynberg Park Masterplan. (Source: Earthworks Landscape Architects, 2012).
Figure 3: Nantes Park within broader Green Network. (Source: Bruce Sutherland, 2013)

Case Study

Wynberg Park and Nantes Park, serve as important green spaces within their respective communities, offering more than just recreational amenities; they function as platforms for social cohesion. However, their roles in promoting social cohesion stem from different historical backgrounds and contexts. (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4: Historical aerial photography (Source: City of Cape Town, City Map Viewer)
Figure 5: Historical aerial photography (Source: City of Cape Town, City Map Viewer)

Wynberg Park, located in the southern suburbs, is a historic park with a broad, diverse catchment area. Its origin can be traced back to the Cape Colony. The park itself was officially designated as a public space in the 19th century, originally named King Edward Park after the British Monarch King Edward VII. The park was formally opened in 1902. Currently, the park attracts a wide range of visitors from various socio-economic backgrounds, due to its extensive size, scenic beauty, and range of activities and facilities, including children’s playgrounds, walking paths, and picnic areas. It has traditionally served as a neutral ground for people from different communities to interact, making it a subtle driver of social cohesion.

The diversity of activities allows different user groups to engage with the space and each other in a relaxed, informal setting, fostering a sense of community. The local residents use the park to walk dogs, relax, and jog but to a very limited extent. Properties in the area are generally large and people have less need to escape the confines of their homes. During weekends the park becomes alive with activity. It is one of the very few public places where the public can braai and picnic for free in a natural environment.

Nantes Park has a more poignant role in the fabric of Athlone and the Cape Flats community, areas deeply affected by the apartheid system, and was established in response to the displacement and fragmentation of communities.

Nantes Park serves as a symbol of resilience and recovery. It is a space where people from surrounding areas, many of whom share a common history of displacement, come together.

During the 1970s, locals from the surrounding areas would go to the park with their radios to listen to the Springbok Radio programme, ‘Die Geheim van Nantes’ which came on in the afternoon. Community member would relax in the park and listen to the radio while kids were playing (Cedras, 2015). The activity was so popular that the park eventually became known as Nantes Park. Over time, however, the park fell into a state of disrepair and neglect. It became a hub for illegal activities and was frequently used as a dump site. In 2007, the community of Athlone and surrounding areas, together with the support of the City of Cape Town, began the rejuvenation of Nantes Park. The project was completed in 2013 and plays a vital role in encouraging recreation, arts, and culture within the community (A History of Cape Town’s District Parks, 2019).

In comparing the two, Wynberg Park plays a role in bringing together a diverse cross-section of Cape Town’s population, fostering interactions across different social and economic lines more organically. Nantes Park with its roots deeply embedded in the experience of apartheids forced removals, acts as a more deliberate space for healing and uniting a community.

Both parks effectively promote social cohesion but through different conduits: Wynberg Park through diversity and inclusivity in a more general sense, and Nantes Park through targeted community solidarity and the healing of historical wounds.

Development Comparison

When considering the development of parks, two common approaches exist, incremental or phased implementation and a large capital investment. Wynberg Park is a prime example of incremental implementation. This approach has involved strategic, phased enhancements to the park, leading to sustainable growth. As for Nantes Park, it represents a large capital investment approach, where development has been realised through significant capital funding. Due to the current financial constraints, this is not favoured. The upgrade to Nantes Park in 2013 was the last time the department invested at this scale in a singular regional park project.

Earthworks Landscape Architects was appointed by the City of Cape Town to develop a Landscape Masterplan for Wynberg Park. The development of a landscape masterplan was key in driving a collective vision for the park and supporting the incremental development over the last decade. The masterplan provided a long-term vision for Wynberg Park, guiding financial decisions and preventing inappropriate or inconsistent development. The Masterplan was workshopped with the local and broader community to ensure the needs of current and future users were accommodated and designed.  

The master plan for Wynberg Park thoughtfully weaves together various landscape elements, from infrastructure and ecology to recreation, into a cohesive whole. The development of the park has been guided by affordability and adaptability; its phased implementation necessitated less initial funding, a critical consideration in a restricted budget environment. This approach allows for maintenance and operational resources to adapt as each phase is developed. There is an allowance for reflection and potential review based on community feedback and emerging needs, concurrently minimising risks, and allowing issues to be addressed early through the process. This approach has fostered strong community engagement, enhancing a sense of ownership for residents and the broader community and users of the park. The gradual nature of this process has a much longer timeline and requires planners, designers, and implementers to be committed to the vision, in a constantly shifting resource environment, this can be a challenge.

Following the completion of the Masterplan, Earthworks Landscape Architects was appointed for detailed design of the first phase. This included the design of the braai (barbeque) areas, additional play areas and timber equipment and pathway network. The work was packaged further and implemented in stages. The additional braai areas were prioritised to shift users and activate underutilised areas of the park. One of the key elements was providing individual braai spots to accommodate families/groups wanting to have their own space. Smaller play areas were positioned close to the new braai areas to respond and encourage families with smaller children to make us of these areas. (Figures 6, 7 and 8).

Figure 6: Wynberg Park communal braai area (Source: Author's own image)
Figure 7: Wynberg Park pathway network (Source: Author's own image)
Figure 8: Wynberg Park (Source: A History of Cape Town’s District Parks, 2019)

The walkways were done in parallel but completed per section to provide a comfortable and user friendly movement network. The masterplan plan identified the northern slope on the south side of the park to be rehabilitated as a fynbos garden, reverting it to Table Mountain Fynbos (Peninsula Granite Fynbos) that covered most of the site before the onset of the original park development. This has been successfully implemented by shifting the maintenance regime to stop mowing and allowing the seed bank to replenish. There was very little intervention required, only time, to allow the natural vegetation to become re-established. (Figures 9 and 10).

Figure 9: Fynbos garden concept (Source: Earthworks Landscape Architects 2012)
Figure 10: Fynbos Garden, Wynberg Park, 2024 (Source: Author's own image)

This slow progression of infrastructure allowed the maintenance and operation to adapt to the demands that comes with expansion. Additional braai areas, spread across the site, have maintenance implications. In some instances, the reduction of mowing on the southern slope reduces the maintenance burden of manicured lawns in the entire park with maintenance being adjusted to each landscape 'room'.

Conversely, Nantes Park has seen a more immediate transformation due to a substantial once-off capital investment.  Samantha Glen Landscape Architects were appointed by the City of Cape Town to develop the design, detailing, and construction of Nantes Park in 2013.

Nantes park pedestrian network was an important element in the park, the desire-lines being clearly evident in historical images dating back to the 1960’s. The intersections of the footpaths were celebrated as a point of connection, reflected in the design by a generous space and change in material from concrete to a circular brick pattern. These junctures were also a place of pause or gathering, with low walls framing the edge and providing seating for people to gather. The entrance buildings and play area provide a clear sense of arrival. The play area contains connections to the surroundings, with a climbing wall in the silhouette of Table Mountain. The skatepark is built to accommodate both entry level riders on plastic bikes or scooters, with a few ramps to accommodate the more advanced skater. (Figures 11 and 12).

Figure 11: Nantes Park, Aerial view of Entrance gateway and Play area (Source: Bruce Sutherland)
Figure 12: Nantes Park Skatepark (Source: A History of Cape Town’s District Parks, 2019)

The approach to the development was the appropriate response to counter the negative impacts in the park at the time. A full transformation was required if the park was to be a platform for positive engagement and activity. The approach brought immediate community benefits and economies of scale, making the park a beacon of growth and improving local attractiveness. However, the high initial costs pose a substantial financial barrier, in that there has not been significant investment made following the upgrade.

The divergent strategies employed by Wynberg Park and Nantes Park illustrate the difference between incremental development and significant upfront investment which hinges on available financial resources, a trade-off of immediate impact against gradual, community-responsive growth. Due to the current financial constraints and the infrastructural and maintenance requirements of regional parks, future development will favour an incremental development approach.

Future Development

Over a decade later, as part of the Regional Parks Programme (RPP), both parks, are being assessed for further investment. The RPP aims to guide and inform strategic decision-making and develop support for these parks over a multi-year budget.

The Regional Parks Programme aims to provide the residents of Cape Town with premier and unique park facilities, serving large population groups. To achieve this, the programme is supported by principles focused on enhancing the heritage value, improved accessibility, economic opportunities and improved maintenance and operations (Regional Parks Programme, Concept Note, 2023).

The hydrological system in both parks is one of the greatest assets with ecological, aesthetic, and recreational values. The recreation potential of the stream could be realised if it was more accessible to users in sight and sound, with perhaps water play in the future. Both parks, with their respective river courses, have been identified in the Liveable Urban Waterways Programme for future investment. (Figure 13).

A key focus in future planning will be to focus on ecological functioning as well as improved social and recreational benefits of the waterways.
Figure 13: Wynberg Park current river corridor (Source: Author's own image)
The existing design and management of the parks is characterised by traditional park functions, prioritising recreation and scenery. In contrast, the 'new paradigm' for park management emphasises a more integrated approach that combines recreational with environmental and social functions such as enhancing biodiversity, encouraging local food production contributing to food security.

While Wynberg and Nantes parks offer significant social and recreational benefits, they do not yet fully operate under the 'new paradigm,' which calls for parks to operate as ecosystems providing a range of services. There are good examples of elements of this being realised, with potential for growth and development in the parks to align more closely with the multifunctional, holistic approach of the new paradigm. This would entail a deeper engagement with the interconnected objectives of environmental management, community well-being, and sustainable urban living.


In conclusion, this paper has endeavoured to unpack the role of regional parks such as Wynberg Park and Nantes Park's contribution to the green network. Both spaces are firmly rooted in the City's history, originally established as havens for relaxation and leisure. Their critical role extends beyond passive green spaces, operating as active platforms for social cohesion. These parks emerge as pivotal in stitching together the green fabric of the city, fostering community interaction and integration within the diversity of Cape Town. Conceived with the intent to fulfil the evolving needs of the local and broader community, Wynberg and Nantes Park manifest the trifold significance of social, ecological and recreational roles.


City Parks Categorisation, 2016 (internal document)

A History of Cape Town’s District Parks, 2019 (internal document)

Cedras, J. (2015). Nantes Park – a developed park facility meeting the demanding needs of a diverse community with a rich cultural and political history. IERM conference presentation

Planning, development and PMO for Recreation and Parks, 2023, Regional Parks Programme, Concept Note (internal document)

Earthworks Landscape Architects, 2013, Wynberg Park Landscape Masterplan

Samantha Glenn Landscape Architects, 2011, Nantes Park, Landscape Plan

Jennings, V., & Bamkole, O. (2019). The Relationship between Social Cohesion and Urban Green Space: An Avenue for Health Promotion. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(3), 452-452.

Brunetta, G., Faggian, A., & Caldarice, O. (2021). Bridging the Gap: The Measure of Urban Resilience.