How green is green? : a socio-spatial analysis of the status of green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality.
Globally, urbanisation is occurring at an alarming rate and urban green spaces are increasingly recognised as essential components in the quest to achieve sustainable urban landscapes. This study, which involved a socio-spatial analysis of the status of green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality (located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), offers a unique opportunity in terms of urban conservation research. The objectives of the study were to examine the socio-economic characteristics and the perspectives of residents on the use and value of green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality using areas surrounding the Bluff Conservancy (all situated within the SDA) as illustrative examples; to develop a spatial representation of the quality/ integrity of selected green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality in relation to land-use patterns; to examine the appropriateness of the typology presently used by the eThekwini Municipality to describe the status of green spaces and to compare the same with Adapted typologies in order to determine the level of deviation; and lastly, to generate recommendations on the conservation and management of these green spaces. A variety of socio-spatial analysis methods were used to collect and analyse primary data. Data was obtained using Geographical Information System mapping and a questionnaire in order to ascertain resident perceptions towards their surrounding green spaces. Thereafter, secondary spatial data acquired from the eThekwini Municipality was processed and subjected to a range of analyses to evaluate the efficacy of the typology presently used by the Municipality to assess the quality/ integrity of green spaces. Six random green space types (settlement, tree crops, woodland, forest, grassland and thicket) were selected and first examined using the eThekwini typology and thereafter with the Adapted typology, developed as part of this study. The results suggested that almost all respondents (75.50%) frequently utilised green spaces in their community, with most respondents favouring the use of recreational and social green spaces (for example, parks, sports field and the golf course). However, respondents also identified numerous challenges associated with accessing and using green spaces; crime, pollution and lack of maintenance in particular, were shown to hamper the optimal use and integrity of a number of green spaces. Additionally, it was found that respondents use of green spaces was not dependent on their gender and income but was significantly influenced by their education. Furthermore, though most respondents indicated that they frequently engage in environmentally-friendly practices, only a small proportion of respondents (9.75%) were aware of the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (which is a programme that formally allows for the creation and preservation of green spaces). In terms of the spatial analyses, the results revealed that selected green spaces within the Municipality when classified using a more discriminatory typology (Adapted typology), can be shown to contain micro-habitats that are either more degraded or more intact than that reflected by the typology presently used by the eThekwini Municipality. It was found that the five thicket green space sites assessed using the eThekwini typology collectively deviated by approximately 60% from that assessed using the more discriminatory Adapted typology. Overall, it was evident that quality based land cover differed minimally to moderately when selected green space types were compared using the two typologies. This resulted in some green micro-habitats within larger green spaces being potentially misclassified in terms of their ecological integrity when using the eThekwini typology and, possibly not being prioritised for conservation and/ or restoration. The combination of social and spatial results obtained and interpreted in this study was used to generate recommendations for the conservation and management of green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality. Evidence from the social survey clearly showed that respondents expressed a willingness and desire to have and use green spaces. Therefore, it is recommended that the eThekwini Municipality increase the number of green spaces, preferably within densely populated communities as well as improve existing greenery within the Municipality. In addition, these areas should be made more accessible and useable and have value added benefits to communities who are intrinsically supporting them. Furthermore, it was found that the current typology used for the classification of green spaces within the eThekwini Municipality is not discriminative enough to allow for effective management and conservation. This suggests the need for a more nuanced classification of green spaces within the Municipality which ensures that quality characteristics are adequately incorporated into the assessment of these environments.