Photography by:
  • GCRO

Green assets and infrastructure (2023)

'Green assets and infrastructure’ was a multi-year project examining the current state of green infrastructure (GI) in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR) and, in particular, how GI is valued and how ecosystem services can be mainstreamed into planning. The overall objective of the project was to influence the approach to green asset management by assessing the extent to which GI has been valued by various stakeholders in the city-region, and by demonstrating ways to incorporate GI within government budgeting and planning processes. The project supported Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) planning with the uptake of a GI planning approach. In particular, the project provided insight into how to incorporate GI as part of the critical infrastructure trajectory that is being developed at both the provincial and local level.

The project’s first deliverable was a report on the State of Green Infrastructure in the GCR (SoGI), published in 2013 (available for download here). This report assessed the physical state of GI in the GCR and whether municipalities have adequately appreciated and valued GI in their planning and budgeting processes. The SoGI provided:

  • Detailed spatial analyses of the extent, distribution and accessibility of green assets;
  • An indication of how ecosystem services provided by GI might be valued, through a review of international practice, and a case study of parks in Johannesburg;
  • An interrogation of how green landscapes are socially constructed, including an analysis of private and public decision-making processes; and
  • Photographic representations of GI in urban and rural landscapes in the GCR.

The SoGI report informed the subsequent phase of work, which was divided into two parallel tasks. The first was a set of expert studies on how to value ecosystem services and implement grey-green design solutions at the municipal level in the GCR, and the second was the GI CityLab - a strategic conversation with stakeholders in GCR about the role of public green asset data for ecosystem service valuations

The project’s second major deliverable was a report that assembled the insights from this second phase of work. This report, published in September 2016 provides ‘A framework for a GI planning approach in the GCR’, and presents the expert inputs as well as reflections from the GI CityLab discussions. This second report (available for download here) builds on the foundations laid the SoGI report and establishes the importance of incorporating a GI approach in the GCR. It assembles expert inputs and reflections from collaborative stakeholder discussions in the Green Infrastructure CityLab to illustrate important considerations for the development of a GI planning approach in the GCR. It deepens the understanding of how GI can be embedded into municipal planning and decision-making processes, and proposes a framework for GCRO’s next phase of work on building a GI planning approach in the GCR.

In line with GCRO's objective of enhancing the accessibility of research beyond academia, in March 2017 we released an explainer video on 'Green infrastructure in the Gauteng City-Region', which can be viewed on this page or at the following link.

The first two phases of the project established the theoretical potential of applying green infrastructure in the GCR, and the third phase pushed the project towards practical application. This phase culminated in the project's third research report, Towards applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region (available for download here), which was published in December 2019. This third report builds on the findings of the aforementioned reports and the project’s CityLab series, which highlighted the need to build an evidence base as critical for garnering support for and as well as enhancing investment in the GI approach. The report demonstrates how a number of GI projects have been implemented, and provides practical guidance for applying a GI approach more systematically throughout Gauteng.

The third report covers four separate focus areas: (1) How innovations in geospatial methods and new spatial datasets have been able to enhance the understanding of Gauteng’s green assets and contribute to the argument for adopting a GI approach; (2) How GI can be implemented in an informal settlement context and help tangibly improve the living conditions of people residing in these areas; (3) How GI can provide the equivalent services as traditional infrastructure at a similar capital cost while also providing a range of additional benefits; and (4) Practical guidance on how green assets could be incorporated into municipal accounting systems to further support the investment in, and maintenance of, GI in Gauteng.

In mid-2020, we published an occasional paper entitled Urban agriculture in the Gauteng City-Region’s green infrastructure network. This paper builds the argument that food gardens are a multifunctional element of the green infrastructure network in the GCR. The analysis adopts a multi-method approach to (1) identify the interlinkages between urban agriculture and social, economic and environmental systems in the City of Johannesburg; (2) validate these critical interlinkages with stakeholder input and ground-level experience of urban agriculture; and (3) visualise the aforementioned interlinkages through a spatial analysis of food gardens in Johannesburg. The paper concludes with recommendations for strengthening policy, management, planning and operational support for food gardens in the Gauteng City-Region.

The Green Infrastructure CityLab

The Green Infrastructure CityLab, which was launched in January 2014, facilitated a space for sharing and co-producing knowledge about green infrastructure between provincial and municipal officials, as well as other stakeholders from a range of backgrounds. The CityLab provided the platform through which the GCRO explored GI plans and projects, and considered what is required to collectively build the knowledge base to support a GI approach in municipal planning processes.

More information on the Green Infrastructure Citylab:

The GI CityLab was used as a platform to explore a set of investigative studies and to guide the development of a GI planning approach in the GCR. The most recent CityLab session, which was held in mid-2016, provided an opportunity for stakeholders to engage around the investigative studies, which were published in the third GAI report.

UCL STEaPP partnership

Over the course of the GAI project various partnerships and collaborations were forged, including the Gauteng Planning Division, the Wits University Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and UCL’s Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). STEaPP is a department that facilitates interactions between academic work in the fields of science and engineering and the world of public policy and decision making. Over the course of April and early May 2016, GCRO hosted Dr Carla Washbourne, a visiting researcher from STEaPP. Dr Washboune worked with Christina Culwick Fatti to investigate GCRO’s work on green infrastructure and its take-up in provincial and local government.

GCRO and STEaPP jointly hosted a side event at the Habitat III Conference, which drew on insights from the GAI project. The side event, entitled 'Shaping Informed Cities Platforms for Knowledge Generation and Use In Urban Decision-Making', was one of the Habitat III Urban Future events and was held on 19 October 2016. More details can be found here. Dr Washbourne made a return visit to GCRO in May 2017 to conduct follow-up interviews after her 2016 research visit. Her findings were published as a journal article in Environmental Science and Policy in 2022.

Another notable collaboration is between GCRO and a UCL STEaPP Masters programme. In 2016/17, a group of students undertook a research project in partnership with GCRO's GAI project, which was entitled 'Modelling food gardens in Johannesburg: Analysing and visualising the benefits of food gardens as a green asset in Johannesburg, through multi-method modelling'. The student project was completed in September 2017 and was converted into a GCRO Occasional Paper, which was published in July 2020.



GCRO outputs

Nino, E. C., Lane, S., Okano. K., Rahman, I., Peng, B., Benn, H., Culwick-Fatti, C., Maree. G., Khanyile, S., & Washbourne, C. (2020). Urban agriculture in the Gauteng City-Region’s green infrastructure network. GCRO Occasional Paper. Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Culwick, C. and Khanyile, S. (Eds.) (2019). Towards applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region. GCRO Research Report No. 11. Johannesburg: Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Culwick, C. and Bobbins, K. (Eds.) (2016). A framework for a green infrastructure planning approach in the Gauteng City-Region. GCRO Research Report No. 4. Johannesburg: Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Schäffler, A., Christopher, N., Bobbins, K., Otto, E., Nhlozi, M.W., de Wit, M., van Zyl, H., Crookes, D., Gotz, G., Trangoš, G., Wray, C. & Phasha, P. (2013) State of Green Infrastructure in the GCR. GCRO Research Report No. 1. Johannesburg: Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Related publications

Washbourne, C.-L. (2022). Environmental policy narratives and urban green infrastructure: Reflections from five major cities in South Africa and the UK. Environmental Science & Policy, 129, 96–106.

O’Farrell, P., Anderson, P., Culwick, C., Currie, P., Kavonic, J., McClure, A., & Wong, G. (2019). Towards resilient African cities: Shared challenges and opportunities towards the retention and maintenance of ecological infrastructure. Global Sustainability, 2.

Culwick, C. Washbourne, CL. Anderson, P. Cartwright, A. Patel, Z. Smit, W. (2019). 'CityLab reflections and evolutions: nurturing knowledge and learning for urban sustainability through co-production experimentation'. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Vol 39, August 2019. pp 9-16. [online first].

Culwick, C., Götz, G., Butcher, S., Harber, J., Maree, G., Mushongera, D. (2017). 'Doing more with less (data): complexities of resource flow analysis in the Gauteng City-Region'. Environmental Research Letters. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7c21

Vogel, C., Scott, D., Culwick, C. and Sutherland, C. (2016) 'Environmental problem-solving in South Africa: Harnessing creative imaginaries to address ‘wicked’ challenges and opportunities', South African Geographical Journal, 98 (3), 515-530.

Bobbins, K. & Culwick, C. (2015) ‘Green growth transitions through a Green Infrastructure approach at the local government level: Case study for the Gauteng City-Region’, Journal of Public Administration. 50(1), 32-49.

Culwick, C. and Bobbins, K. (2015) ‘Green infrastructure: a way to support development in Africa', (African Centre for Cities, Cape Town).

Bobbins, K. (2015) ‘Promoting urban sustainability through managing ecological systems’, in Condie, J. & Cooper, A.M. (eds) Dialogues of Sustainable Urbanisation: Social Science Research and Transitions to Urban Contexts, Penrith: University of Western Sydney.

Bobbins, K. (2015) ‘Green assets as an infrastructure alternative', (African Centre for Cities, Cape Town).

Bobbins, K. & Culwick, C. (2014) ‘Incorporating Green Infrastructure into Gauteng City-Region Planning’, Sustainable Infrastructure Handbook. 1(1), 151 – 159.

Bobbins, K. & Culwick, C. (2014) ‘Enhancing urban resilience through green infrastructure’, Urban Resilience Thinking for Municipalities, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand & Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Schäffler, A. & Swilling, M. (2013) ‘Valuing Green Infrastructure in an Urban Environment Under Pressure – The Johannesburg Case’, Ecological Economics. 86, 246-257.

Other GCRO outputs

May 2017 Map of the Month. Green vegetation and impervious surfaces in the Gauteng Province.

Khanyile, S. (May 2017) 'Mapping green infrastructure in the Gauteng City-Region' Conference poster, Resilience for development colloquium 2017

March 2017 'Green infrastructure in the Gauteng City-Region' explainer video

June 2015 Map of the Month. Application of the GEMF for informing the location of proposed mega-housing projects in Gauteng

March 2013 Map of the Month. Building our green networks.

January 2013 Map of the Month. Visualising Gauteng’s green infrastructure network.

December 2012 Map of the Month. Grey vs Green Infrastructure.

May 2012 Gauteng Green Assets and Infrastructure Vignette.

Selected presentations

Christina Culwick Fatti (October 2022). Towards applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City Region. GDARD's 4th Annual Gauteng Environmental Research Symposium, 27 October 2022.

Graeme Gotz, Gillian Maree, Christina Culwick Fatti (March 2021). 'Using data to build a case for green infrastructure in the Gauteng City-Region'. Data systems for natural resource monitoring learning event, Lesotho integrated catchment management ReNoka Data Reference Group, 31 March 2021.

Christina Culwick Fatti (February 2021). 'Panelist for Seed Session | How do we improve the availability of evidence of the impact of NBS on health?', The Nature of Cities Festival virtual conference, 23 February 2021.

Christina Culwick (October 2020). 'Green infrastructure and storm water management', DWS Storm water management techincal team meeting; Water Technologies, 16 October 2020.

Christina Culwick (September 2020). 'Green infrastructure', ILASA webinar, 16 September 2020.

Christina Culwick (September 2018). 'Sprouting, tending and pruning the research process: Critical reflections on a green infrastructure project', 2018 International URBIO conference, 13 September 2018.

Christina Culwick (September 2018). 'Developing & applying a green infrastructure approach in Gauteng', Wits Architecture 1st year course lecture, 10 September 2018.

Hannah Benn (August 2020). 'Urban Agriculture in the GCR’s green infrastructure network', Food Governance Community of Practice Meeting, 26 August 2020.

Christina Culwick (July 2018). 'Developing and applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region'. GI Strategy workshop, 26 July 2018.

Christina Culwick (June 2018). 'Developing and applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region'. 2018 Insaka Symposium, 12 June 2018.

Christina Culwick (June 2018) 'A framework for a green infrastructure planning approach in the Gauteng City-Region'. AfriSam SAIA Awards adjudication. 3 June 2018.

Gillian Maree and Christina Culwick (February 2018). 'Knowledge use and decision-making for sustainable development: A green infrastructure approach in Gauteng'. World Urban Forum 9, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, UNHabitat. 12 February 2018

Samkelisiwe Khanyile (February 2018). 'Mapping green infrastructure and assets in the Gauteng City-Region'. ACC International Urban Conference, 2 February 2018.

Christina Culwick (February 2018). 'Applying a green infrastructure approach in Gauteng'. ACC International Urban Conference, 2 February 2018.

Gillian Maree (September 2017), 'Moving towards sustainable urban development: A framework for a green infrastructure planning approach in the GCR', presentation at the First Gauteng Environmental Coordination Committee, 21 September 2017.

Gillian Maree (August 2017), 'Urban Agriculture and food security in the GCR', Competition, Concentration and Employment in the food sector Colloquim, 24 August 2017.

Christina Culwick (July 2017) Invited panellist to session 'Investing in green infrastructure: Green buildings, renewable energy, water security and waste'. Gauteng Infrastructure Investment Conference 2017. Johannesburg. 27 July 2017

Christina Culwick (June 2017) 'Moving towards sustainable development: A framework for a green infrastructure planning approach in the GCR'. SALGA transport working group, Johannesburg. 2 June 2017.

Christina Culwick (May 2017) 'Green infrastructure: The 'luxury' we can't afford to live without'. Resilience and development colloquium. Johannesburg. 9 May 2017.

Samkelisiwe Khanyile (May 2017) poster presentation 'Mapping green infrastructure in the Gauteng City-Region'. Resilience and development colloquium. Johannesburg. 8 May 2017

Christina Culwick (March 2017) 'Laying the foundations for a green infrastructure approach in the GCR' ICLEI LoCS4Africa congress, Ekurhuleni. 23 March 2017.

Gillian Maree (March 2017) Facilitated GCRO panel session on Green Infrastructure for African Cities, ICLEI LoCS4Africa Congress, Ekurhuleni. 23 March 2017.

Christina Culwick (February 2017) 'GCRO’s Green Infrastructure research' Sociology in Sciences Po (Paris) Masters Seminar, Johannesburg. 15 February 2017.

Christina Culwick (September 2016). 'Applying a green infrastructure approach in the Gauteng City-Region’. Keynote address at the 2016 ILASA Conference, Pretoria, 30 September 2016.

Culwick, C. (2016). ‘Enhancing urban resilience through green infrastructure’. University of the Witwatersrand’s Global Change Masters Programme, 15 September 2016.

Last updated: 13 July 2023.


The GCRO sends out regular news to update subscribers on our research and events.