Are there enough public green spaces in SA town planning?
By Zaid Railoun
WHEN YOU stroll through the rich biodiverse Greenpoint Park, you promptly feel, "this park makes me immensely proud to live in this city".
Those seeking tranquillity can sit on the benches overlooking the bird-filled wetland, the power walkers can huff on by, and the kids have a choice of two amazing playgrounds with fortifications and obstacles; a general would be honoured.
The gardens are like an indigenous exhibition and thoughtful interpretive signs and educational information about the medicinal plants are everywhere.
These public green spaces (PGS) have become an integrated part of society and have received recognition for their importance because of their recreational and psychological benefits to communities.
But, studies have shown globally and locally that public green spaces are normally influenced by features such as ethnicity, relative to wealth and education of the residents.
So, the question remains: Are there gaps in urban infrastructure and urban planning when it comes to PGS in low-income South African towns?
To see if the knowledge was true, researchers from Rhodes University in Makhanda (Grahamstown) mapped each town into three suburban area townships, RDPs1 and affluent based on their socio-economic grounds and interviewed residents from each of the suburbs.
The results revealed that, irrespective of their socio-economic background, most of the residents considered their current state of PGSs to be either inadequate or unsafe.
Surprisingly, though, most residents visited a PGS at least three times a month or for sporting activities. These questions were created to understand resident views to maintain or improve PGS spaces in the surrounding area.
Research by Zander Venter has shown how green spaces and green infrastructure are important to human well-being and how urban planning to promote urban sustainability, climate resilience and liveability are crucial for many developing countries with a growing population, as with South Africa.
Between now and 2040, almost every second person born worldwide will be African, and every so often will be living in areas with low economic and human capacity, as the case is for South Africa. These findings provide valuable information for decisionmakers and stakeholders about the creation and management of public green spaces in both high- and low-income housing options.
There is a great awareness of the challenge the government faces in allocating budget for green initiatives as PGS, because other "things" receive priority.
The findings in the research studies suggest that the ability to protect and access nature is recognised by all, and that management plans should address concerns from both high- and low-income residents about the safety and standard of all public green spaces in South Africa.
There is sufficient evidence in these studies that alludes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN, which show that ecosystem services derived from green infrastructure are fundamental for socio-economic development and the general human well-being of all.
For South African urban planners, the theory of "integration" must turn into "action". Just imagine a vintage car moving steadily along a highway. For its age, it may be moving along quite nicely, but as we focus on it we fail to notice a sports car tearing down the fast lane.
The vintage car represents the present rate of progress that government/s are making and the sports car the rate at which some of our developing countries are integrating the SDGs into action.
Time is ticking on Statistics South Africa’s online data portal that tracks the SDGs that were agreed upon and adopted in 2015. It is important for our economy that we remain one of the front runners on the African continent.
Zaid Railoun is a research scientist at Investment Fund Africa, looking at water infrastructure project investment. [email protected]