Interrogating Park Access And Equity In Johannesburg, South Africa

This article was published in the journal Environment and Urbanization in April 2022. It contributes to the Green Assets and Infrastructure project.

Parks and other green spaces are vital in providing ecosystem services to urban communities and contributing to healthier urban environments. Equitable access to green spaces is essential in cities, especially those with complex socio-economic challenges, such as Johannesburg. Johannesburg is faced with the dual challenge of managing rapid population growth and redressing historical inequality from apartheid-era spatial planning. Deliberate and equitable park planning is critical to reducing inequality, and residents can benefit significantly from good distribution and management of parks. This paper considers how socio-economic characteristics influence traditional park access to enable a better understanding of where investment could have the most strategic impact.

This paper leverages geographic information system (GIS) techniques – and geographically weighted regression (GWR) in particular – to interrogate park access in Johannesburg through an environmental justice lens. The analysis uses a compensatory and outcome-based approach to equity, and considers the extent to which the distribution of access to urban green space in Johannesburg redresses structural and historical disadvantages. We use GWR to examine park access in relation to four socio-economic characteristics, namely: population density, employment status, education level and mean household income, variables extracted from the most recent census (2011). This paper focuses only on municipally-owned parks, excluding other open and green spaces.

Using a GWR, this study identifies neighbourhoods with inequitable access to parks based on particular socio-economic characteristics. It demonstrates that GWR models have the potential to be used in distribution and compensatory equity planning and could be useful for identifying where park investment might help counter existing inequality. These findings are consistent with other equity studies of urban parks, underscoring the importance of spatially sensitive statistical analyses.

The study highlights the complex relationship between different types of park access and various socio-economic factors, and that these relationships vary spatially. Statistical analyses of park accessibility differ depending on the variable under examination, and in this case park access equity was measured using the number of parks and the distance to parks across the city.

The analysis demonstrates that the intricate patterns of access and equity cannot be identified using traditional access measures focusing on “who gets what” while paying little attention to how spatial and socio-economic factors interact to compound inequality. Rather, this study shows that park access equity manifests differently within a city depending on socio-economic characteristics, and that these are important considerations for deciding how to use park access to help redress existing inequality.

“Poor park access is an environmental justice issue for cities, where limited access deepens existing disadvantages faced by poor and marginalised groups.”

Key points

● There is a complex relationship between different interpretations of park access and various socio-economic considerations.

● In this study, a Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR), which considers the number of and proximity to parks, shows that population density, unemployment and education play important roles in determining park access equity within Johannesburg.

● The study confirms that park access equity, along with factors influencing it, are spatially heterogeneous across Johannesburg and differs across several park accessibility measures.

● Considering various factors that influence equitable accessibility improves understanding of local environmental justice and could inform planning towards more equitable park access.

Recommended citation

Khanyile, S. & Culwick Fatti, C. (2022). Interrogating park access and equity in Johannesburg, South Africa. Environment and Urbanisation. 34(1). p10–31.

For further detail, please contact Samkelisiwe Khanyile []


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