Kerry Bobbins takes up research stay at DiFU

  • GCRO
  • Date of publication: 13 October 2015

As part of her Green Talents award, researcher Kerry Bobbins took up a fully funded research stay at the German Institute of Urban Affairs (DifU) in Berlin, Germany, during May 2015. The aim of her research stay was to gain an understanding of the sustainability research being undertaken at the institute, and to a conduct a comparative study of the ecosystem services and the uptake of a green infrastructure planning in Johannesburg and Berlin.

Drawing on insights from her supervisor, Dr. Darla Nickel at DifU, experts in the fields of green infrastructure and a visiting group of graduates from John Hopkins University working on green infrastructure storm water solutions, Kerry was able to meet and engage with a wide variety of stakeholders including academics, researchers, government officials (environmental, planning and infrastructure), engineers, and representatives from the city’s water utilities department. While in Berlin, Kerry also undertook field visits to view successful green infrastructure design solutions that have been used to reduce storm water runoff.

Kerry found that while the terms ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘green infrastructure’ are not explicitly used in environmental planning programmes in Berlin, they are inherent principles in the way the that the city is planned and managed. There has been a shift towards finding more efficient ways of providing and promoting access to infrastructure and services in Berlin after the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) in 1990. Supported by a formal landscape planning policy and informal environmental planning tools, which touch on the value of ecosystems, there is a large value placed on green spaces in the city for supporting healthy living spaces and increasing quality of life. This mandate is clear in the re-zoning of land that fell along the length of the Berlin wall (or ‘no-mans’ land). Located in prime areas of the city, sections of no-man’s land have been demarcated as public green space (fig. 1), with portions of it being set aside for urban development (such as Potsdamer Platz).

Shifts to the use of green infrastructure to reduce the generation of storm water in Berlin have been incentivised through a ‘storm water utility fee’, which charges landowners for the total area of impervious surface on their parcel of land. The greater the area of impervious surface, the higher the fee charged to the landowner. Prompting the rollout of a handful of green infrastructure storm water attenuation solutions such as green roofs, retention ponds and rainwater harvesting, the storm water fee has led to successful use of green infrastructure at the parcel or site-level. For developments after 1990, such as Potsdamer Platz, green infrastructure storm water solutions have ensured that no storm water is generated on parcels of land. Rather, water is attenuated in the landscape, or in designated attenuation ponds (see fig. 2).

Interestingly, while green infrastructure is widely used to reduce storm water inputs into the systems (such as those listed above), engineers actively engage with developing new and meaningful site-level solutions given local parameters and requirements. This includes solutions such as pocket wetlands (fig. 3) and strip gardens to replace traditional storm water gutters (fig. 4).

Kerry plans to use the findings of her research stay to inform the GCRO’s Green Assets and Infrastructure project and to complete a series scholarly outputs on comparative case for green infrastructure (in Berlin and Johannesburg).She further hopes to present on the opportunities for including green infrastructure into Gauteng City-Region Planning.


(Photos by Kerry Bobbins)

Fig. 1: Mauerpark, or ‘Wall Park’, is named after its status as a former part of the Berlin Wall.

Fig. 2: Storm water attenuation pond built as part of the Potsdamer Platz development.

Fig. 3: Pocket wetland developed to attenuate stormwater and regulate the flow of traffic.

Fig. 4. Strip gardens along a road to manage storm water runoff.


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