Rethinking sustainable development : the economic value of green spaces
Cilliers, Elizelle Juaneé
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Sustainable development is a utopian aspiration for most modern urban areas. Sustainable development, as defined in literature, always includes three dimensions: social aspects, the economy and the environment. Sustainable development is the fine balancing act of these three dimensions. However, ten years since the introduction of the sustainable development concept, it is still not fully realised in practice and implemented in the urban environment, and reasons are being sought to clarify this reality. This study evaluates sustainable development from a spatial planning and economics perspective, arguing that the unequal prioritisation between pro–development approaches and pro–environmental approaches is the greatest reason for unsustainable urban areas. The economy (along with development pressures) and the environment (along with green space protection initiatives) should be planned holistically in order to reach a state of urban sustainability. Reality reveals however, that the environment is often neglected, and sometimes sacrificed to benefit and enhance urban development. This is mainly a result of land–use planning decision–making and the perceptions of local authorities with regard to the function and value of environmental areas (green spaces), in comparison to urban areas. Urban areas are valued higher than green spaces; mainly because urban areas can be measured (valued) in terms of monetary value (property prices or revenue drawn from development) and green spaces mainly have indirect, unmeasurable value (social, environmental). This study aimed to link green spaces and economic benefit in an attempt to quantify the intrinsic value of the green spaces, as a way to enhance green space planning. The increasing rate of worldwide urbanisation is compounding this problem as green spaces are sacrificed for residential and commercial developments. This widespread trend of green space loss is of international concern. From the objectives of urban economics and environmental (green) economics, it is believed that authorities will value green spaces better when a monetary value can be connected to it. The ability to influence land–use decisions is an essential economic development instrument, as land–use is an important factor in urban economic growth and development due to its contribution to desirability and productivity of a city. In this way economic theories and models can significantly enhance and guide future spatial planning decision–making processes. In the attempt to valuate green spaces in South Africa, Potchefstroom where used as a case study, identifying the linkages between local green spaces and residential property prices. Preliminary results were contrary to the general tendency in developed countries that property value increases with proximity to green areas, but it highlighted the city–scale and neighbourhood–scale benefit of green spaces. A tool was proposed for local authorities to evaluate green spaces in order to be able to compare revenue gained from developmental projects versus environmental projects on an equal platform, resulting in a balanced sustainable development vision and guide for future decision–making within the spatial planning process.