In the dry, scorching city of Bamako, Mali, lies a green oasis inspired by Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and designed by Cape Town engineers.
Up until a few months ago – when the Parc National du Mali was officially opened – the land was made up of thickets of woods and vines which had grown out of control.
But about three-and-a-half years ago, a group of Cape Town-based engineers, who formed the core team, were commissioned to revive the area as an urban park.
The 15ha park was based on the model of Kirstenbosch, which has botanical gardens, as well as conservation land and facilities for recreational activities, such as exercising, concerts and festivals.
“We saw the same opportunity in Mali,” said Anthony Wain, director of Planning Partners International, which designed the park. He said the area had a topography and character similar to Kirstenbosch’s.
The park is set in the beautiful Niger River Valley, and beyond the perfectly maintained garden it extends into a wild escarpment of rocks and a natural wooded area.
The site is part of a 2 000ha fragmented forest – including a patch of classic savannah trees, many of which were previously chopped down for fire wood.
The park had once been a colonial botanical garden, created by the French in the late 1800s; however, it became rundown over the years because of a lack of attention and resources.
The project was commissioned by Mali’s Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which funded the development of the parkland.
After much planning and a lot of intense labour to get the area in shape, the gates were officially opened to the public in September.
Wain said the main aim of the facility was not to attract tourists, but locals.
Bamako is situated not too far from the desert, so generally, it is a dusty, dirty, densely populated and noisy city.
The park, he believed, offers locals a safe, clean and green place to seek temporary refuge from city life.
He said it not only gives them a much-needed reprieve from the heat – the temperature soars well above 40ºC in summer – but also has a range of facilities, such as a children’s playground, a gym, five restaurants, walkways and trails. It also joins up with the National Museum of Mali on one end.
“The area is fenced all the way around and there are even entry control gates, so there’s a lot of infrastructure involved,” said Wain. “Also, most of the equipment we used, such as the irrigation system, was sourced from Cape Town because there’s very little available in Mali. So, it’s very much a Cape Town effort.”
The park has already proven a hit with locals – there are 500 visitors a day on weekdays, with 1 500 a day at weekends and well over 2 000 on festival days.
A key character of the park is that it is also completely self-sustained, which means it doesn’t have to draw valuable resources from the city.
Francois du Plessis, an irrigation engineer and director at MBB in Stellenbosch, said that besides the irrigation system, they’d also installed systems for sewage and waste water treatment.
The water – which was of an excellent drinking quality – is supplied from an existing borehole and four new ones, and is stored in a 40m³ reservoir at the top of the park.
“A dragline sprinkler irrigation system was installed to cover the park’s 9ha cultural core. The benefit of a dragline system is that it is easy to operate, versatile, can be moved and is simple and fairly inexpensive to install and maintain.”
All of the park’s sewage is treated at an on-site bio-filter plant, the parts for which were shipped to Mali from South Africa and assembled there.
“The future sustainability of these services formed the basis of the designs. It was important to implement systems in the park so that it could function independently from the water and sewer services of Bamako, therefore not putting any further strain on the already stressed systems of the city.”
Wain said that despite having to create the park at a “breakneck speed” of 18 months, there were moments that made it all worthwhile.
“Initially we were faced by an impenetrable woodland thicket covered with vines. Untangling and undressing this mass of vegetation was a slow process but eventually revealed a magnificent cluster of baobab trees.
“The canopies of other trees were raised, grass was planted and traditional parkland emerged with a combination of open glades, diverse in scale and character, and offering a variety of pleasant vistas.”
He would not, however, divulge the cost of the project.
There are plans to extend the park to a size of up to 60ha, and to protect the outlying areas of forest and wetland.
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