The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!
Photo Cred: James Delaney | The Wilds

The Wilds were abandoned by the people of Johannesburg due to fear of crime, overgrown areas and general lack of upkeep but an Artist had a goal to reclaim them, and has since created our very own “central park”.


Johannesburg, South Africa (07 February 2022) – The Wilds Nature Reserve (The Wilds) has transformed from an unkempt green space that fell into steady decline – earning a bad reputation for being a haven for criminal activity – to one of the City’s most popular escapes to experience scenic views, thanks to local artist James Delaney.

Delaney, who lives a few meters from the historic park in Houghton, has been involved in its revitalisation and upkeep for over eight years. He officially adopted The Wilds four years ago.

“The Wilds is an extraordinary piece of land with so much to offer; a lot of history, amazing architecture, stonework, and a great plant collection, to name a few. I liken it to Central Park in New York [because] it’s our Joburg Central Park, our beauty in the City,” he says, describing his favourite hangout spot.

Sandwiched between Killarney and Houghton in northern Joburg, The Wilds holds about 40 acres of indigenous South African plants, placed over the last 90 years, and was set up in the 1930s. The park neighbours downtown Joburg, making it easily accessible for the many residents who are interested in visiting.

Delaney’s involvement in the park started when he realised that the green piece of land near his home was derelict and needed a caring hand. This was around the time he had just bought a Labrador named Pablo, who needed somewhere to be walked, which was further motivation for him to get involved in efforts to spruce up the park.

The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!
Photo Cred: James Delaney | The Wilds

He started the project to clean up The Wilds by trimming overgrown plants, removing dead wood, and clearing the pathways on his own. He was later joined by other volunteers and was able to employ a few people to help him with fixing the park.

In addition to restoring The Wilds, Delaney designed and created metal sculptures to attract people back to it, including 67 owls, one life-size kudu, a life-size giraffe, two ostriches, and all kinds of bokkies, which together make up about 100 sculptures dotted around the green space.

“The sculptures are cut-outs of metal and are either painted or coated. Those sculptures have since become sort of park landmarks. People visit the park to see them. The sculptures are also very social media-friendly and have helped us market the park,” he says.

The Wilds is currently being maintained by Delaney and several other volunteers, as well as JCPZ. “At first, I started working on the park by myself because, at the time, I didn’t know who to contact for assistance. I eventually contacted JCPZ and explained what I was doing,” he notes.

He has since received the 2018 AfriSam South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) Award for his efforts to rejuvenate the once-forgotten green space. The award highlights the power of an individual who has made a sustainable difference. It also acknowledges his leadership qualities for being the first person to influence the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo (JCPZ) and other community members to take care of the then deteriorating Wilds.

However, he points out that it was not smooth sailing when he initiated the idea to revive the historic green lung.

“City officials need to welcome volunteers who wish to help restore and maintain public spaces. We are not a threat, but instead, lend a helping hand by doing some of the work as volunteers,” he explains.

“There is a multitude of people who want to fix parks across Joburg, but the common theme among everyone is the officials who turn them away. Municipal officials should be saying, ‘here is how you can do it, here are the bylaws, here’s the agreement you need to sign and enable the community to get involved,’” he adds.

Since its refurbishment in 2017, The Wilds has become one of the most visited and popular parks in Johannesburg, reaching over 10 000 followers on its Facebook page: The Friends of The Wilds.

Delaney spends each day walking Pablo at The Wilds when the two of them aren’t down at his Victoria Yards art studio in Lorentzville, on the eastern edge of the Johannesburg central business district.

The Johannesburg Wilds given a new lease on life!
Photo Cred: James Delaney | The Wilds

Sources: City of Joburg 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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