The dusty open space nestled between Glen View 1 Primary School and First Close is rich in an unusual tale of history.
The piece of land has seen it all, beginning in the late 1970s when the first bricks were piled to mark the founding of the now sprawling Glen View suburb.
“Speed”, as the open space is popularly known, has since the establishment of Glen View been a theatre of recreational exertions for generations of youths in a community where football is considered a religion.
Over the years, the piece of land has proven an undisputed conveyor of football talent where former national team and premier league legends such as Eddie Mashiri, Allan Gahadzikwa, Rowan Nenzou,
Engelbert Kahuni and Andrew Chifamba, among others, honed their skills during their formative years.
It is a piece of land that is revered in all the four corners of the suburb.
Sadly, today, the open space is on the brink of extinction largely due to the decision by the city council to lease it for guarded car parks and churches.
Today, four overnight car parks and an equal number of churches have permanently set base there, choking the field into disappearance.
“This piece of open space has been getting smaller and smaller with each passing year,” said Charles Mthandwa, a Glen View resident and an aspiring footballer.
“This ground is a source of interaction and entertainment for local youths and we fear that a few years from now we will have nothing to talk about it.
“The encroachment of car parks and churches has deprived the youths of a platform to showcase their talent and relax.”
This situation is, however, not peculiar to this far-flung part of south-western Harare.
Many other high-density suburbs are also faced with the same predicament.
“Today, we have people from as far as Glen Norah and Budiriro coming here to play social soccer since open spaces in their areas have been converted to other uses,” continued Mthandwa.
In Glen View, there are over 30 guarded car parks, most of which have been established on grounds previously set aside for recreational amenities like community halls, parks, crèches and children’s playgrounds.
The situation is no better in neighbouring Budiriro and Glen Norah, where car parks are being established fast and furious.
But questions have been asked as to who is responsible for parcelling out land for the establishment of car parks and why the car park owners are discouraged from building permanent structures.
Observers note that rampant corruption and abuse of authority within urban local authorities have meant that the practice of allocating stands in contravention of the city’s master plan continues unabated.
City fathers along with senior council officials have been at the receiving end of accusations of having a penchant for amassing wealth by acquiring stands using their council privileges before selling off the property without following municipal procedures. This has seen several councillors and local authority officials being investigated, suspended and in some cases fired on charges of corruption in stands allocation, house-grabbing and abuse of office
“The current crop of councillors appears as if they have no regard for basic town planning models,” said Ian Ngorima, a town planning expert.
“It seems council has thrown out Harare’s master plan on the pretext that the city’s population has ballooned from the time the original plan was drawn. This, however, does no warrant the wanton destruction of open spaces, ground set aside for recreation, and wetlands for short-term economic benefit.
“Despite the vehicle population having grown much over the years, this is no reason for the disproportionate increase in guarded car parks at the expense of open spaces.”
Mr Ngorima said open spaces were an important feature of urban planning which must be reserved to maintain decorum in residential areas. However, in Harare and parts of Chitungwiza, sports fields, open spaces, and wetlands are being turned into commercial and residential stands, much to the displeasure of residents.
In Zengeza, the previous council leadership is alleged to have parcelled out nearly all open spaces, including those reserved for playgrounds, police posts, churches and recreational parks, to their kith and kin.
The allocation of land for guarded car parks and any other amenity is governed by the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act, Urban Councils Act 29:13 and other subsidiary legislation.
While Harare is still recognised the world over as one of the well-planned cities in the sub-Saharan region, recent developments are threatening to drag its reputation into the gutter.
Last year, the Minister of Local Government and Public Works was forced to issue a warning to all local authorities that were allocating residential and commercial stands in unsuitable open spaces.
Harare Residents Trust communications officer Charles Mazorodze said abrupt change of land use by the city without due consideration and consultation had negative impacts on the welfare of residents.
“The number of car parks in Harare has drastically increased in the recent months, not only due to the increase in the number of cars but due to clandestine deals between the council officials and car park owners,” he said.
“High-density suburbs like Highfield, Glen Norah, Kuwadzana, Dzivaresekwa, Glen View, Mbare and Budiriro, among others, have witnessed a surge in guarded car parks over the last two years,” said Mr Mazorodze.
“In these suburbs the 300-square-metre stands cannot accommodate additional cars due to limited spaces.
“Most of the vehicle owners are only tenants and, as such, have no secure places to park their vehicles and they resort to the guarded car parks. The situation has been compounded by the city’s department of urban planning services which has over a long period of time adopted a complacent attitude in regularising designated places for car parks and other amenities.”
Observers note that the conversion of open spaces into guarded car parks was not taking into consideration the existing by-laws and national policies on environmental management enshrined in the Environmental Management Act which sought to guard against the destruction of flora and fauna.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail In-Depth revealed that some of the car park owners had lax security which resulted in some vehicles being broken into.
It was further noted that most car parks were located near popular nightclubs and had become heavens for prostitution.
Some sex workers pay security guards and are allowed to use some unlocked vehicles to service their clients.