As Port Moresby loses its public reserves and sees exponential growth, its leading beach carries the responsibility of making city life more bearable.
HOW important are good recreational ‘open space’ facilities – or parks and beaches– to a city?
Very important, says Kenneth Atasoa, the National Capital District Commission’s deputy city manager in charge of Port Moresby’s urban planning and regulatory services.
“Every community needs good recreational spaces. They are the places people go to recreate and rejuvenate,” Atasoa explains.
“Good developed public reserves have many benefits. Sports and recreation, the preservation of the natural environment, the provision of green space are some of them.”
As more and more cities of the world begin to realise the need for these open spaces and include them in their urban planning, well-developed parks and beaches are becoming an integral part of city development.
In fact, some famous and the most ‘liveable’ cities are those ones known for their open spaces as they are for their culture – New York for Central Park, Singapore for Bukit Timah Nature Preserve, London for Hyde Park and Honolulu for Waikiki Beach.
For a city like Port Moresby that is politically autonomous and does not have the advantage of having in its possession the ‘countryside’ and all its natural benefits, having a good ‘open space’ is important.
Take Port Moresby’s situation with many of its public reserves being lost over the years (the latest being the Jack Pidik Park and Unagi Oval) and one begins to appreciate how terribly important a good public reserve is.
Besides Port Moresby’s nature and adventure parks which are being managed as quasi-business operations to retain their integrity, the nation’s capital has only Ela Beach as its biggest remaining reserve area.
However, since the days of Sir Hubert Murray’s colonial administration from 1908 onwards, Ela Beach has not had any deliberate effort put into its development and upkeep.
The Beach, once the home ground for the nestling of giant sea turtles (from which it gets its name; Era/Ela is Motuan for turtle), was used as the site for a jail, a hospital, a cricket pitch, tennis court, shooting competitions, horse-racing, canoe-racing, an airstrip and a wireless telegraph station.
“As part of the Port Moresby Town Local Development Plan, Ela Beach saw to some minor improvements in the early 2000 – some lighting and security but that was it,” adds Atasoa.
Atasoa says the current works by the National Capital District Commission for redeveloping Ela Beach is the first proper and deliberate effort by anyone to go into maintaining the Beach.
Providing a status report this week, senior project engineer Ravu Frank said work was on target and would be completed in time for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit (APEC) in November this year.
“We are close to completing the service relocations and instalments for water, power and telecommunications. We have included the three groynes, done up the rock revetment, retaining wall and concrete works; started on the swimming pool, the car park area for APEC, and the curve of the family beach. Shortly, we will begin on the landscaping,” said Frank.
When completed, the new Ela Beach will look nothing like what Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea has seen and experienced ever before.
“Ela Beach will be a world-class beach, like what The Strand is to Townsville,” added Frank.
The reference to the Townsville premier beach is no accident. The NCDC project team actually travelled to Townsville and consulted the Townsville City Council engineers in charge of the restoration and redevelopment of The Strand.
Three groynes have been added to keep with coastal engineering. Groynes are necessary in that they create and preserve beaches from being washed away by interrupting water flow and limiting the movement of sediment.
The three groynes will also cater for public amenities and help in creating separate beach precincts. Starting from the western end is the Lagatoi Beach, bordered by APEC House and Groyne 1. Lagatoi Beach is the cultural hub of Ela Beach. It will be here that the Hiri Moale Festival and all cultural activities will be staged. Upon Groyne 1 will be the food court.
Between Groyne 1 and Groyne 2 is the Family Beach. As denoted by its name, this section of the beach is for families and has all the amenities in line with it, topped by a children’s play area in the 3D shape of a turtle. On Groyne 2 will be situated an amphitheatre that will hold up to 2,000 people.
Between Groyne 2 and Groyne 3 is the Sports Beach which will hold three basketball courts and three beach volleyball courts – all of them with seating areas. The Sports Beach is where sportsmen and women will be expected to be seen doing their training and from where canoe and rowing races will be launched. On Groyne 3 will be a boat ramp for boat users and owners.
When finished, the new Ela Beach will have car parking with lighting for up to 370 cars, 3.2km of paved footpath with lighting, disable-friendly facilities with minimum stairs, two boat ramps, three distinguished beaches, 1.7hq of recreational park area, 120 picnic tables, 50 barbeque areas, 50 rubbish bins, three toilets and shower blocks, two headlands for food court/café development, 2000 seat amphitheatre which will have work begin on it after APEC.
Also included will be a children’s playground, turtle-themed family area with up to 200sqm of shaded area, three beach volleyball courts, three basketball courts, flood light capabilities for the courts for night use, 1500 seating for all the courts with shading, themed cultural sculptures, Lagatoi sail shelter, history boards, up to 700 trees and palms 0.5ha of green zone and security.
Built into one of the beach precincts is a natural pool for swimming during low tides so people can still enjoy a swim no matter the time.
For its foundation, the new Ela Beach has a “retaining wall” built into it to prevent severe damage during heavy storms – another recommendation from The Strand engineers that was also adopted.
“This is probably one of the most important investments NCDC is making for Port Moresby, in that, Ela Beach will be used by all the people of Port Moresby on a daily basis for as long as the city is in existence. The social and health benefits to the lives and wellbeing of the people is immeasurable,” Frank admitted.
Atasoa concurs, especially as Ela Beach is the only big public reserve area to still remain for the people of Port Moresby.
“We are running out of open spaces for Port Moresby; the current open spaces under the custodianship of NCDC are now under threat,” says Atasoa.
“We have lost up to 50 percent of our open spaces to private and corporate citizens in very vexing situations. The little that the people of Port Moresby still have, we are fighting to keep – and Ela Beach is one of them. Developing it means that we are putting our mark on it to keep any more land grabbers out.”
Atasoa continues to expound on the growth of Port Moresby and how the new Ela Beach adds value to ‘liveability’ in Port Moresby.
“Port Moresby is growing exponentially and also more condensed. For example, in the Boroko area, we are now letting homeowners put in more than one house on their allotments, making the allotment more condensed. This leaves them little room for a recreational area. So having a good beach with proper facilities makes a lot of sense,” he adds.
For the management of the new beach, Frank said NCDC is looking into the possibility of having it outsourced so that it can remain sustainable and usable.
Port Moresby residents should welcome this latest public amenity and work at taking care of it so that it can last for them into the future.
*This feature article has also appeared in The National newspaper and is also online on The National website.