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2015-04-07 | News

Putting a value to urban green spaces

Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are growing fast, and with that, many are losing their urban green spaces. Placing a value on such urban spaces can motivate policymakers to prioritise conservation or restoration of natural systems which provide important environmental services and contribute to human wellbeing.

Now, a series of research studies by the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, will aim to calculate the value of natural urban assets in three economic hubs in the region, measuring the benefits in terms of the services they provide a city.

Speaking at the EPRU’s quarterly research meeting in March, unit director Dr Jane Turpie, explained that the study will hone in on Kampala, Durban and Dar es Salaam to estimate the ‘amenity value’ of urban natural assets in those important regional cities.

Restoring Kampala’s city parks

‘We want to model the value of recreational spaces in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. This is a city where urbanisation is out of control and there is nothing left in it, by way of green spaces. People have to travel right out of the city to get that,’ she explains.

City managers, however, are now beginning to consider restoring some urban wetland areas in order to create city parks. ‘This study is about understanding the benefits to communities of creating city parks,’ Turpie says.

Durban’s housing market

The second study takes place in Durban, where EPRU researchers will attempt to calculate how natural systems might influence the price of property in this east coast city.

‘In Durban, the profile of the city changes dramatically from suburb to suburb. We’re looking at this urban ‘typology’ and matching it to nearby natural characteristics. Then, using property data from 30 000 households in the city, we want to show how these contribute to property prices.’

Open spaces in Dar’s informal settlements

Finally, the researchers want to look at how urban open spaces contribute to human wellbeing in Dar es Salaam, particularly for those living in informal settlements.The city is Tanzania’s economic engine room, but urban sprawl has eaten into most of its urban open spaces, which are severely degraded. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the city is made up of informal settlements.

‘Now there is a policy shift, in that there is a huge drive from NGOs to restore some of the natural systems in the area,’ Turpie says, ‘but there are also competing interests from the city, for instance to canalise rivers in order to manage their flow. This process straightens rivers, sending them directly out to sea, but destroys any potential benefits which a city might get from having the natural flow and shape of a river.’

This kind of work contributes to the unit’s objective, which is to produce policy-relevant research in the fields of development and the environment in the region. Turpie hopes to have results ready for publication by 2016.

By Leonie Joubert