The promise of a brighter future has driven countless South Africans to urban areas in search of job opportunities and ultimately a better future. As such, this influx in population has emphasised the need for cities to adopt and plan for green practices in highly populated areas to help meet the growing demand for infrastructure and services by retaining and expanding green infrastructure networks to ensure the proper functioning of natural ecological systems in urban areas.
In addition, the current Covid-19 reality has underlined the need for sustainable and green models to be implemented to ensure that society thrives particularly in times of crisis.
AfriSam – as an advocate of green initiatives and sustainable projects – celebrates the achievements of South African individuals and organisations in sustainable design through its biennial Sustainable Design Awards. The Gauteng City Region Observatory (GCRO), which was recognised in the 2017/18 awards for its research publication, entitled A framework for a green infrastructure planning approach in the Gauteng City-Region, has made great strides in providing the Gauteng government with insight into potential future green infrastructure possibilities.
According to Christina Culwick, Senior Researcher at GCRO and contributor to the publication, government is often restricted in what it is able to do from a research perspective, and tends to focus on situations that require immediate attention rather than long term projects. “The aim of our organisation is to provide the government in Gauteng with insight and data from our extensive research, allowing it to make informed decisions on potential future projects and how the successful implementation of these will benefit communities.”
GCRO is a partnership between Gauteng Provincial Government, Wits University, the University of Johannesburg and local government in Gauteng. The green infrastructure publication provides insights that were gleaned through various engagements with academic and government stakeholders, including from provincial and local government in Gauteng, as well as other interested stakeholders. Additionally, insights were obtained from number of experts, including the City of Cape Town and the University of Cape Town.
“If we are able to plan and build our cities in a way that takes ecological systems into account and specifically incorporate them into the infrastructure network, we will create a city region that not only provides more efficient services, but is a better place to live in and presents greater benefits to residents,” explains Culwick.
She says the aim of the report was to determine how Gauteng could successfully implement a green infrastructure approach. This meant taking into consideration several elements such as the foundation for a green infrastructure approach, expert insights into the application of these approaches, and finally the vision and process in applying such infrastructure in the Gauteng city region.
GCRO has provided several recommendations that are not only aimed at improving services, but benefit the communities and surrounding environment as well. The report calls for the development of local case studies to help understand how green infrastructure could be applied in Gauteng. One such study which has been subsequently undertaken, highlights the need to address the public spaces in informal settlements, which battle with issues such as excess surface water and sewerage flowing between dwellings. A series of green infrastructure interventions were implemented in Diepsloot, including rain gardens and soak-aways to make these areas more visually appealing, and reduce stagnant water. This not only makes the space more aesthetically-pleasing, but improves the health of residents in the area.
Another example of a successful green infrastructure intervention is the case of Atlasville in Ekurhuleni, which was prone to flooding. Several houses near the Atlas Spruit had become increasingly vulnerable to the flooding as they were built on the flood plain. Instead of laying concrete in the section of river channel where the flooding originated/occurred, the municipality chose to redesign the river section by harnessing nearby park space and incorporating reeds that would be most effective in helping manage the flooding.
“Not only did this improve the aesthetics of the area, but it enhanced the biodiversity of plant and animal life in the park,” says Culwick. “The project also improved the value of a number of homes in the area. Notably, the cost of the two options was similar, by the additional benefits achieved as a result of the green infrastructure option far outweighed the concrete channel alternative.”
AfriSam Sales and Marketing Executive, Richard Tomes, says the work by the GRCO forms part one of the four categories that the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Awards recognises, Research in Sustainability. “It is one of many exciting initiatives that are noted for their positive contribution to communities and their ability to reduce environmental impacts through initiatives such as water conservation and low impact and regenerative site development projects.”
The remaining three categories are Sustainable Architecture, Sustainable Products and Technology, and Sustainable Social Programmes, which recognise contributions that bring sustainable innovation to human living environments.
Launched in 2009, the competition has grown into South Africa’s most prestigious sustainable design awards programme, drawing an exciting range of entries in sustainable architecture, and creating public awareness and debate on sustainability in the built environment.
While the current pandemic has meant that potential candidates may have been unable to enter, AfriSam has provisioned additional time, extending entry submissions to 3 July 2020.
“The advent of Covid-19 and its resultant global disruptions has forced everyone to adopt new behaviours to ensure not only environmental sustainability, but peoples’ overall wellbeing. The pandemic has shone a light on the need for a more sustainable world and this truly emphasises the relevance of the awards and what they stand for,” concludes Tomes.
For more information on the AfriSam-SAIA Sustainable Design Award, please visit https://www.sustainabledesign.co.za/