The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - @an­na­cox

NOW OUT­DOOR lovers in the busy CBD can re­lax in a safe new park and en­joy free in­ter­net – and free charg­ing of their phones and gad­gets.

In what is a first for the city, Jo­han­nes­burg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) has in­stalled its first smart bench in the new Metro Park, close to the Bree Street taxi rank.

The bench is equipped with tech­nol­ogy that not only charges elec­tronic gad­gets, but also mon­i­tors what goes on at the park, such as the num­ber of visi­tors, crime in­ci­dents and lit­ter­ing.

The story be­hind the benches is an in­ter­est­ing one.

It started with an old Joburg res­i­dent, Ge­orge Elkin, who was a fre­quent user of Joburg’s park fa­cil­i­ties and would of­ten lodge re­quests for park benches when­ever he vis­ited a park.

When Elkin died a few years ago, funds from his trust were set aside to con­trib­ute an­nu­ally to City Parks for benches and seat­ing fa­cil­i­ties for the pub­lic.

“So, for the past few decades, JCPZ has been re­ceiv­ing grants from the trust, which con­trib­ute to­wards benches in var­i­ous parks in and around the city. Late last year we ap­proached the trust to en­quire if they would sup­port the de­sign and in­stal­la­tion of smart benches in the in­ner city that are wi-fi en­abled, can be used to charge mo­bile gad­gets while si­mul­ta­ne­ously act­ing as seat­ing for park users who want to safely use tablets and phones in the park,” said City Parks man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Bu­lumko Ne­lana.

The trust agreed. Metro Park was cho­sen as the pre­ferred site for the pi­lot project, and the first in­stal­la­tion was con­cluded late last year.

“We are hope­ful that busi­ness will come on board to sup­port this in­no­va­tion as it at­tracts an in­crease in the num­ber of users of parks, and is safe to use due to its prox­im­ity to se­cu­rity guard houses in the park. Fur­ther­more, it will fur­ther pro­vide us with statis­tics on user pat­terns in fa­cil­i­ties that have been iden­ti­fied to ac­com­mo­date smart benches,” he said.

Louise Meek, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Is­abelo, says the unit is en­cased in con­crete, which pro­tects the in­side tech­nol­ogy and will help with­stand ex­treme tem­per­a­tures. It is also off the elec­tric­ity grid as it is pow­ered by so­lar pan­els. “Also, al­most ev­ery­thing that goes into these benches is lo­cally made,” she said.

Meek was one of the re­cip­i­ents of fund­ing from the City of Joburg and the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg’s Green City Startup, which gives en­trepreneurs money to have their ideas de­vel­oped into green start-ups. “I am very happy that, as a re­cip­i­ent of this fund­ing, I have been able to do some­thing for the city.”

City of Joburg mem­ber of the may­oral com­mit­tee for com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment Nonhlanhla Si­fumba went to see the newly erected bench yes­ter­day and im­me­di­ately con­nected her­self to the wi-fi. She set about tweet­ing about it and tak­ing self­ies with the bench in the back­ground.

“We are hop­ing to get more of these soon, es­pe­cially in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas. We be­lieve this will en­cour­age more peo­ple to use our parks. We are also ap­peal­ing to busi­nesses to spon­sor these and to adopt parks.”

We are hop­ing to get more of these soon


TEX­TING: MMC for com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment Nonhlanhla Si­fumba on a smart bench with free wi-fi and a port for charg­ing phones us­ing a ca­ble in the Metro Park, next to the Bree Street taxi rank.

SURF­ING THE NET: Nku­l­uleko Mfana and Dawn Dludlu are seen on a smart Bench.

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