Growing a Garden Pathway Along the Black River


In Cape Town, South Africa, communities along the polluted Black River corridor suffer from social isolation and economic hardships.  This is true for the communities of Maitland Garden Village, Oude Molen Eco Village, and Alexandra Hospital. By maximising assets such as gardening and local support, these communities can improve with urban agriculture initiatives, tourist attractions, and relationship building. Through collaboration with our sponsor, The City of Cape Town Heritage Management and Environmental Department, the Maitland Garden Village Gardening Club, and surrounding communities, this project attempts develop the Black River pathway through envisioning economic and recreational opportunities.  This website is a result of seven weeks of research prior to arriving in Cape Town.  The following pages will develop over two months and be updated periodically.


The Black River became polluted when it was canalized in 1943 by the City of Cape Town (Gravel et al., 2011). This directed pollution from industries upstream to contaminate the entire river. Similarly, surrounding river communities experienced social and economic marginalisation at the hand of rapid urbanisation. This has caused the City of Cape Town and communities surrounding the river to begin looking at restoration projects, such as projects focused on tourism, recreation, and agricultural opportunities that can connect visitors to the Black River corridor, making it a destination. The city’s hope is to use agriculture and tourism as a way for improving employment and social opportunities. Our project explores the ways to revitalise the Black River and surrounding communities through a linked process.

In 2011, another group of WPI students initiated planning a pathway along the Black River corridor.  This year’s project focuses on a specific region in the corridor to more thoroughly develop pathway opportunities for the Maitland Garden Village (MGV) and Oude Molen Eco Village (OMEV) communities. Common problems in MGV include high unemployment rates, geographic isolation and social isolation (Gravel et al., 2011). OMEV has similar issues and relies heavily on tourism for economic sustainability (Brandmaier et al., 2011). The South African government has used tourism opportunities, such as nature pathways, to develop local communities, generate public interest and create jobs (Binns & Nel, 2002). There are also successful cases, such as the Harvest of Hope program in Cape Town, where urban agriculture in low income areas is an important source of financial stability through community supported agriculture (CSA) (Hoekstra & Small, 2010). A common theme between these projects is that the community is a large and necessary impetus in pathway planning processes to create a sustainable effort (Delgado 2001).

Another project in 2011 worked with MGV residents and used Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) to focus on MGV’s strengths. This helped start the Green Light Project, which now has nine committees based on community interest. One of these interests is gardening, as shown in the naming of Maitland Garden Village. This is the reason for the Gardening Club committee, which is the most relevant committee for our project. The club aims to restore the beautiful gardens that were once prevalent in MGV. Members of the Gardening Club serve as co-researchers for our project as we continue visioning for the pathway.

Though the pathway visioning began in 2011, the project has not advanced far; there is still not a concrete plan for incorporating agriculture, tourism, and recreational opportunities. Furthermore, different problems pervade each of the surrounding communities. The beautiful gardens that once flourished in MGV were a source of pride for community gardeners (Gravel et al., 2011). Over time, the gardens diminished in size and intricacy. MGV and OMEV also experience social and geographic isolation, resulting in a weak intercommunity connection. Because of the gap in communication between these communities, there is a potential disconnect when incorporating both groups’ vision for a river pathway. This also reflects the disconnect between each respective community with the river.

In taking steps toward the Black River corridor’s revival, we will collaboratively develop plans for agricultural and tourist initiatives along the Black River pathway to create jobs. Both tourism and agriculture present opportunities for employment ranging from guided walking tours, farmers markets and other commercial agricultural initiatives. Community involvement is important for us to tap into the knowledge, ideas, skills, and interests of the key stakeholders. Involving them in the process of pathway planning will allow for the sustainable development of the area.


CPTC Context

Mission Statement and Objectives