Identifying the potential of green infrastructure planning in rural and peri-urban informal settlements in South Africa
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A strong definition to use when thinking of Green Infrastructure (GI) would be the “natural and semi-natural areas, strategically planned with other environmental features, designed and managed so as to provide a wide array of eco-systemic services” (Miccoli et al., 2014:1082). Ahern et al., (2014:256) confirms this definition while adding that GI is the “spatially and functionally integrated systems and networks of protected landscapes supported with protected, artificial and hybrid infrastructures of built landscapes that provide multiple, complementary ecosystem and landscape functions to the public, in support of sustainability”. Natural systems, also known as eco-systems, are identified and planned in such a way as to include anthropogenic dimensions (Ojea, 2015:41; Travers et al., 2013:21). This brings forth an adaptive ecosystem service where the ecosystem serve in the ways that were changed by human-induced alterations of society and natural systems (Beumer & Martens, 2014:99). A diversified concept, such as GI, Roberts et al., (2012:168) argue, integrates with numerous challenges of human and natural interactions, especially from a strategic spatial view. This research, however, applied GI to informal settlements in rural and peri-urban regions. Rural and peri-urban (RPU) regions raises unique considerations in terms of GI (Green Infrastructure) planning, because such regions are more interconnected with natural surrounding elements (like water, trees, plants, birds, insects, etc.) in comparison to human-built spaces (e.g. tarred streets, concrete foundations, steel structures, etc.). Urban sprawl, affecting RPU areas in man-made and natural landscapes, is argued to represent land levelling and stripping off natural benefits, while decreasing water permeability, towards no specific built growth pattern and discourage ecosystems' eligibility to function. Many poor communities establish informal settlements that create densely built sites in vulnerable natural areas. These sites, such as in riparian corridors, coastal ecosystems, and steep hills, are chosen by informal settlement communities because of the availability to accessible, cheap, and sometimes free, environmental services. Such unplanned development that results from sprawl could potentially impact socio-ecologically valuable and sensitive regions through air pollution, sewage discharge into watercourses, infill of wetlands from urbanization, and deforestation. The potential of GI planning has been identified for rural and peri-urban informal settlements, in order to provide more insight into such natural and man-made spatial planning relations. Multiple spatial and temporal scales exist within the ecology of the landscape, land-use development, human settlement planning, and infrastructure planning. Regional planning scales, commonly preferred regarding GI planning, crosses various ecosystem service boundaries, administrative and political authority zones to comprehend spatial planning complexities. Urban metabolic systems are directed by regulating land use planning directions, which transforms regional environments collectively. This research argues that by identifying the potential of GI planning in RPU informal settlement regions, sustainable development approaches and strategic landscape management can be strengthened in order to mutually benefit human livelihoods, as well as the spatial integrity of natural systems. Although GI can be planned and implemented on various spatial planning scales, ranging from global, national, regional, metropolitan, district or house/block areas, this research focuses on the sub-regional district scale. This research applied a sub-regional district scale in order to identify the potential of GI planning in RPU regions through applied GI planning principles. The GI planning principles used in this research were considered on the sub-regional district scale of the eThekwini Municipality, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. From here the influence of RPU informal settlements was identified by using established GI, represented as Metropolitan Open Space Systems (MOSS). ArcGIS 10.4.1 was used to project various buffer widths (required to protect and conserve GI) over informal settlement points, as to determine the potential influence informal RPU settlements may have on established GI. GI planning principles were then applied to these buffers which overlapped from informal settlements and established GI, in order to create strategic spatial maps portraying the influence of RPU informal settlements, in regards to GI planning potential. Lessons learned by identifying the potential of GI planning from the influence of RPU informal settlements illustrate visible and discernible regions for further GI planning while comprehending individual and collective space, for the multi-functionality and spatial connectivity of GI. The potential influence of RPU informal settlements was identified as it was unknown towards spatial planning. Through identifying these influence patterns spatial planning can comprehend natural and strategically built spatial planning scales in order to include the anthropogenic connection with nature. However, this is limited exclusively to RPU informal settlement regions.