Towards applying a green infrastructure approach in the GCR
In recent weeks, the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) has experienced heatwaves, raising renewed concerns over water security, as well as heavy and persistent rains, leading to severe flooding in some areas. In this context of heightened climate variability, thinking about ways to redesign our urban areas with more sustainable infrastructure solutions is becoming more and more important. Green infrastructure (GI) is emerging as an alternative approach to traditional (‘grey’) infrastructure in urban planning and development. Its emergence can be understood in terms of the growing demand for infrastructure and services, increased concerns over natural resource constraints and climate change, and the negative impacts associated with traditional approaches to designing and building cities. It has been proposed that GI can provide the same services as traditional infrastructure at a similar capital cost, while also providing a range of additional benefits.
However, despite greater policy interest in green infrastructure in recent years, traditional infrastructure solutions to urban problems continue to dominate. This is partly due to the lack of a systematic evidence base to support GI implementation. There have been calls from decision-makers for more concrete examples of the benefits of successful urban GI applications, as well as for practical guidelines on their implementation.
Towards applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region is the GCRO’s eleventh Research Report. This report builds on the findings of two previous green infrastructure reports, as well as a CityLab process run with academics and government officials between 2014 and 2016. These outputs and the CityLab discussions highlighted as critical the need to for a deeper evidence base in building support for, and enhancing investment in, the GI approach.
Unlike the earlier studies which were more theoretically grounded and policy oriented, this report comprises a number of technical investigations that more practically reflect on how a GI approach could be incorporated into urban planning in the GCR, and in other similar urban contexts.
The report consists of six chapters:
Chapter 1: Introduction and overview, by Christina Culwick, provides an overview and rationale for the report, situating it within the context of GCRO’s long standing Green Assets and Infrastructure Project.
Chapter 2: Mapping the inequity of green assets in Gauteng, by Samkelisiwe Khanyile, re-engages with the mapping of GI in the Gauteng City-Region that was a core feature of the first GCRO green infrastructure report in 2013. The mapping explores inequities in green assets and infrastructure through three different lenses, namely: (i) the distribution of green assets across the region; (ii) the proximity and accessibility of parks in Johannesburg; and (iii) the apparent degradation of Gauteng’s wetlands over time.
Chapter 3: Sustainable urban drainage systems for informal settlements, by Anne Fitchett, Lerato Monama and Jennifer van den Bussche, investigates the potential for sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) in addressing inadequate stormwater infrastructure in informal settlements. The chapter graphically illustrates a range of practical, low-cost GI solutions that could be applied in an informal settlement context.
Chapter 4: Green infrastructure stormwater solutions for Diepsloot, Johannesburg, by Anne Fitchett, Lerato Monama and Jennifer van den Bussche, focuses on these researchers’ experience in working with community organisations to apply a range of GI solutions in Diepsloot, an informal settlement in Johannesburg. The analysis draws out important learnings both in terms of the process of, and results from, implementing this local GI experiment.
Chapter 5: Atlas Spruit flood relief scheme: costs and benefits, by Stuart Dunsmore, Raishan Naidu and Marco Vieira, reflects on the results of the Atlas Spruit flood relief scheme, which saw the design of an artificial wetland to address stormwater challenges in a typical suburban setting in Ekurhuleni. The analysis weighs the costs and benefits of the GI approach actually taken, relative to the more conventional ‘grey infrastructure’ engineering solution that would have called for the construction of concrete drainage channels.
Chapter 6: Developing a ‘green asset registry’ to guide green infrastructure planning, by Gillian Sykes, investigates how GI could potentially be incorporated into traditional local government asset registries as an important way to see the value of GI recognised by municipal engineers and financial managers.
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Linked to project(s):Green assets and infrastructure (2023)
Social cohesion in Gauteng
Increasing attacks on foreigners, including in April 2015, along with a succession of widely publicised incidents of racism, have triggered a new round of soul-searching in South Africa. Why, after the comprehensive defeat of apartheid and its ideology, does prejudice seem so intractable? What kinds of interventions could help reduce these troubling events? How can society be made more ‘cohesive’?
Suggestions about what to do in the face of these challenges are sometimes speculative and wishful. They consist of appeals to the better nature of ordinary people, or an assumption that the feel good moments of the democratic transition can be re-enacted to bind everyone together. Calls for social cohesion and tolerance seem often to dodge the complex vicious cycles that lead to the instances of intolerance that erupt in the media or in communities.
This Research Report centres on better understanding the current dynamics of social cohesion in Gauteng. It tackles five guiding questions, each of which corresponds to a chapter:
- How has social cohesion become a goal in post-apartheid South Africa, and what are the key limitations resulting from this understanding of social progress?
- In a global context, how is social cohesion defined and what are the main contestations about this ideal of social change?
- How do the respondents in the GCRO's Quality of Life IV (2015/16) survey respond to questions on levels of trust, claims to belonging by different race groups, and the place of migrants and gays and lesbians in Gauteng?
- How have past and present initiatives to improve social cohesion conceived of the problem they are attempting to address, and what is their scale of intervention?
- What are the various methodologies that have been used in past and present initiatives to improve social cohesion?
A key premise of this research was that our society has an enormous accumulation of experience in trying to tackle anti-social interactions and to address social injustices that are, in various ways, shaped by race, class, nationality, gender, sexuality and other identities. The last two chapters of this report are based on a review of more than 60 social cohesion initiatives. They analyse the wide variety of actors involved in such work, the different ways in which they conceive of their objectives, and the different scales at which they operate. These actors pursue dozens of different methodologies including sports and dialogue, arts, psychology, urban design, and public campaigns. This dispersed capacity through society is important because it represents experience-based responses to the ways in which anti-social behaviour and social injustice are reproduced. In attempting to determine a programme of action, we argue that we should learn from and extend existing and past attempts to tackle these difficulties.
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