G.3 Planning considerations

This section deals with the planning of the provision of public open space. In this context, the term ‘planning’ means making informed decisions regarding the type of open space to be provided, based on a thorough understanding of the context within which the planned open space will be provided.


The decisions regarding public open space provision must be informed by a clear understanding of the features and requirements of the proposed project. This would require an assessment of the characteristics of the proposed development. Furthermore, the characteristics of the environment in which the new development will be located need to be examined and possible services and infrastructure that could be utilised must be identified.

This section outlines a range of questions that need to be asked and factors that have to be considered before deciding on the type of open space to be provided, and before the open space infrastructure can be designed.

G.3.1 Characteristics of the proposed development

Decisions regarding public open space provision need to be guided by an assessment of the characteristics of the proposed development and an understanding of the requirements or needs that will have to be met. Aspects that should be considered are discussed below.

G.3.1.1 The nature of the proposed development

The nature of the development that is planned will influence decisions regarding the provision of public open space. For instance, the provision of open space might not be necessary as part of a small development project, as residents’ needs might be met by existing open space in surrounding neighbourhoods. Large (or mega) projects may have to include a range of open space types. The nature of a project therefore needs to be understood to make informed decisions regarding public open space provision. The following questions can be asked to gain clarity:

  • What is the dominant land use of the proposed development? What supporting land uses will be present?
  • What social facilities are planned? These facilities can often be clustered with other public facilities and located adjacent to public open spaces (e.g. squares, transport facilities or parks) to create service precincts.
  • If a mixed-use development is proposed, what type of mix is proposed, e.g. a variety of housing types, sizes, densities and/or tenures? (See Section F.4.4 for a discussion of mixed-use developments.) The open space requirements of mixed-use projects will differ from projects that are primarily residential in nature.

G.3.1.2 The residents of the area to be developed

Decisions about public open space provision need to be guided by information regarding the potential residents and users of the planned open spaces. Usually, the identities of the actual occupants of the houses to be provided are not known when a residential development is planned and designed. It may be possible to make assumptions regarding the profile of the future residents and users of open space by assessing the surrounding neighbourhoods or similar developments in comparable locations or contexts. It is important to establish the following:


  • The total number of residents that would have to be accommodated. Actual numbers may be higher than anticipated due to the fact that the provision of houses and services may attract more people than originally planned for.
  • The number of households, the range of household sizes and the types of housing to be provided in the development. This will have an impact on the type and number of public open spaces to be provided.
  • The composition of the potential user groups in terms of age, gender, income and levels of mobility. Young families, for example, need playgrounds for pre-schoolers. Public open space should, as far as possible, be accessible to all residents and users, whether they are disabled or not.

G.3.2 Characteristics of the existing environment

Decisions regarding open space planning and design need to be guided by an assessment of the context within which the development will be located. Issues that should be considered are discussed below.

G.3.2.1 The physical location of the proposed development

Constraints and opportunities posed by the development site could influence the planning and design of public open space. The physical characteristics of a site will influence the type of land use, buildings and activities that could potentially be accommodated within the open space.

(i) Landscape and ecology

The physical features of the landscape should have a substantial impact on the planning and design of open space, as (soft) open spaces perform ecological functions within a neighbourhood. These functions may include drainage, aquifer recharge, air and water purification, or maintaining biodiversity. Some open spaces are established to protect ecologically sensitive areas (e.g. nature reserves), while other open spaces may be developed on sites that are not suitable for conventional construction (e.g. some dolomitic areas).

A thorough analysis of the landscape and ecology should be conducted to determine the location and nature of all ecologically sensitive areas. Such an analysis will assist with site planning and influence the positioning (and ease of construction) of possible infrastructure and buildings. Gain an understanding of how the landscape is continuously evolving and changing, either through natural or human-induced processes, to assist in developing the site in the most ecologically sensitive manner. Gather information about the following:

  • Wetlands, surface water bodies or other ecologically sensitive areas on or near the site. Information on Critical Biodiversity Areas (CBAs) or Ecological Support Areas (ESAs) is available on the website of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).6
  • Endangered or protected plant or animal species on or near the site
  • Existing vegetation, especially trees, and whether they are deciduous or evergreen, indigenous or alien
  • Natural features that may have cultural significance
  • The position of any telephone poles, overhead or underground power cables, rock outcrops, water features, dongas, etc. that could restrict building work or may require involvement (especially permission) from various government departments


(ii) Topography

The topography will be a key factor in the site layout and where possible buildings should be placed. It will also affect the views to and from the open space and the provision of engineering services. The following questions will assist in highlighting pertinent issues:

  • Does the site slope? Are there significant changes in level, such as embankments or retaining walls? Gradients have an impact on the provision of facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and other types of NMT (see Section I). They also affect access for people with disabilities (see Section O.2).
  • Can the development be oriented to make the most of attractive views?

(iii) Climate

The micro- and macro-climates of the site will influence the placing of facilities within the open space. The following questions need to be asked:

  • Is the site exposed to prevailing winds? Is the wind direction seasonal? This information would assist in positioning and orientating (for instance) squares so that they are protected from the wind.
  • Where does the sun rise and set in summer and winter? The availability of shade may be important to the users of the open space. Remember there may be external features that influence sun penetration on the site, such as a nearby mountain, hill, tree, or building.
  • Does the site fall in a declared natural disaster zone? Is there a risk of seasonal flooding, earthquakes, tremors, veld fires and landslides? Do disaster management plans exist? For assistance with the development of actions to adapt settlements to the impacts of climate change, consult the Green book: Adapting South African settlements to climate change7. 

(iv) Geotechnical characteristics

Open space is sometimes developed on sites with challenging geotechnical characteristics that do not allow for extensive construction. These hazardous ground conditions can affect the proposed use or layout of the open space and present risk if some construction has to take place. The following questions need to be asked regarding the ground conditions on a site:

  • What is the soil condition and quality?
  • Are there any aggressive chemicals or minerals present?
  • Is the site part of or close to a dolomitic area?
  • Was the site used for mining and exploration in the past?
  • Are there large rock outcrops on the site?
  • Are there gullies or other ditches on the site?
  • Is there groundwater present? What is the height of the water table?
  • Did dumping – legal or illegal – ever occur on the site?

(v) Existing buildings on the site

Existing buildings on the proposed development site can be viewed as either presenting opportunities or constraints. In certain cases, existing buildings could be incorporated into the open space development. To determine the most appropriate course of action, the following questions can be asked:


  • Do the buildings have features of historic or conservation interest? (See Section F.3.2.1.)
  • Do the buildings have cultural significance? May these buildings be demolished?
  • Should these buildings be refurbished? Can these buildings be repurposed and reused? Can these buildings be integrated into the new development?
  • What are the character and form of these buildings? Should this influence the remainder of the development?

(vi) Adjacent land uses and edge conditions

Adjoining properties have an impact on each other. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the land uses adjacent to the development site, as well as the edge conditions that affect the site. Questions that need to be asked include the following:

  • What are the adjacent land uses and how could that influence decisions regarding the type of open space to be provided? In particular, what types of open space are available or have been planned in the neighbouring areas?
  • Are there neighbouring buildings where privacy needs to be respected?
  • Are there unattractive neighbouring uses from which the new open space needs to be screened?
  • Are there existing streets and spaces adjacent to the site to which the new open space should relate?
  • Are there noise problems from road traffic, railways or adjoining buildings?
  • Is there neighbouring vegetation that may have an impact on the proposed open space?
  • Does a waterway run along the edge of the site?
  • Are there neighbouring buildings that have cultural significance?

(vii) Access to the site

Residents and visitors should find it easy to access public open space. Open spaces should therefore link to existing pedestrian footpaths and routes and public transport facilities. Access to the open space should also be provided at safe and convenient points. The following questions could be asked:

  • What is the vehicular traffic intensity of the streets adjacent to the proposed open space? Is it busier during certain times of the day? This might influence where the different uses and facilities are placed, and how vehicular access is provided to ensure the safety of pedestrians and other users.
  • Where are the existing and potential vehicular, cycle and pedestrian access points to the site?
  • Are there existing footpaths or other routes (desire lines) across the site? Can the existing footpaths and routes be accommodated in the new open space? The desire lines should be considered when designing movement networks as NMT users tend to follow established routes.
  • Where are public transport facilities and routes located in relation to the site? How can these be linked to the proposed public open space?
  • What are the local destinations (such as shops, schools, bus stops) that users of the new open space may want to access? How can the new open space best be linked to these to encourage walking and cycling?

G.3.2.2 Available engineering infrastructure and transportation facilities

The development of open spaces may not be as infrastructure intensive as many other land uses, but the potential impact on existing engineering infrastructure (e.g. water pipelines, electricity cables, sewerage pipes) should still be considered. Transportation infrastructure (e.g. streets, sidewalks, crossings, cycle paths) should cater for motorised


and non-motorised transport. To gain a thorough understanding of the existing situation, the following need to be established:

  • What engineering infrastructure (bulk and local) is available close to the new open space?
  • Does the existing engineering infrastructure have enough capacity to accommodate the demands (e.g. related to stormwater and sewerage handling) that will be placed on it as a result of the development of new open spaces in a neighbourhood?
  • Can the new open space be linked to existing engineering infrastructure?
  • Are there public transport routes close to the site? Are there bus stops, railway stations or taxi ranks close to the site? Is there sufficient public transport capacity in the area?
  • Are there cycle and pedestrian facilities available?

G.3.2.3 Existing socio-economic features

The planning and design of a development must be guided by the potential needs of the residents of the new and existing neighbourhoods. If an existing community will move into the proposed development, it is critical to understand the community and involve them in the decision-making process from the outset. (See Section E.) It is also important to acquire information regarding the socio-economic features of the neighbouring communities. This will provide some indication of the types of open space that may be required. The following questions should be asked with respect to the existing community (if known) and the adjacent neighbourhoods, especially those that are functionally linked to the development:

  • How many people live there? This information can be used to assist with determining how much space should be provided per 1 000 people for a specific type of open space (see Table G.1).
  • What is the age profile of the residents? Residents at different life stages may have different needs regarding open spaces.
  • What is the income profile of the residents? Do residents have access to private cars? This will inform decision-making on issues such as the provision of parking.
  • What types of housing are people living in? Some housing types (see Section H.3.3.2 for a housing typology) e.g. single detached housing or semi-detached housing often have gardens (of varying sizes) and residents may not use public open space frequently. Attached housing and apartments or flats usually have some semi-private space (e.g. courtyards), but in general, outside living spaces, yards and garden areas are limited. These residents may use public open space more frequently than people living in single detached or semi-detached housing.

G.3.2.4 Legal / administrative considerations

Legal issues relating to the site can influence the development and may cause considerable delays if not dealt with pro-actively. For the development of different types of open space, it is important to consider the zoning of the development site as it might be necessary to apply for a rezoning, a consent use or another departure from the scheme (e.g. through a building line relaxation) to accommodate the proposed development. In addition to the zoning of a property, conditions in the title deed or in the township establishment scheme or the presence of servitudes may influence decisions regarding the provision of open space.


G.3.3 Public open space options

Open spaces are often described as soft (green) or hard (paved) open spaces. Many open spaces include both soft and hard elements, but in most instances one of the elements would be more prominent. Open spaces can be classified into different types based on specific (mostly functional) characteristics. The different types can be grouped together in a number of ways according to various criteria, but for the purpose of this Guide the different types of soft open space have been categorised as follows:

  • Nature reserves
  • Parks
  • Sites for urban agriculture
  • Sports fields

The different types of hard open space have been categorised as follows:

  • Squares
  • Streets
  • Public transport stops
  • Parking lots

In practice, these eight types may manifest in various forms, permutations and combinations.

G.3.3.1 Types of soft open space

Larger soft open spaces and remnants of natural areas should, where possible, be linked by corridors of green open space. These corridors can offer opportunities for recreational walking, jogging and cycling, which is not always possible in spatially isolated spaces. The corridors can also act as conduits for indigenous species, thus potentially facilitating the movement of small urban fauna, pollinators and the dispersal of seed from one space to another. The movement of pollinators and seed enables natural systems to be protected far more effectively than in the case of unconnected natural remnants.

(i) Nature reserves

A nature reserve is an area that is protected and managed in order to preserve a particular type of habitat with its associated flora and fauna. In land use schemes, this type of open space is often zoned for ‘conservation’ and it frequently includes river corridors (often developed as green belts), wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, and threatened and endangered habitats. This type of open space is usually open to the public, but human activity is often restricted to certain routes or areas within the open space. It is important that the frequency of visits and the volume of users do not reach a point where they compromise the environment and interfere with the natural functioning of the ecosystem.


Human intervention in these areas should be limited and primarily be aimed at the conservation of the natural area. Rudimentary facilities such as bird hides, viewing platforms and hiking trails along rivers allow residents to use the open space in a sustainable way. The locality, size and dimensions of this type of open space are largely dependent on the existing fauna and flora and will differ from place to place.


Photo credit: Pierre Victor Figure G.4: Nature reserves in and around human settlements help to conserve the natural environment

(ii) Parks

A park is an area of open space (in a settlement) used for recreational purposes. Parks are usually owned and maintained by municipalities. Parks typically consist of lawns, trees and gardens, but may also have buildings, playground structures, ponds, fountains, monuments, etc. Distinctions can be made in terms of size and service catchment area (e.g. neighbourhood parks and regional/district parks) or in terms of shape and form (e.g. linear parkways/greenways, pocket parks and green wedges).

Neighbourhood parks (also referred to as community, precinct or local parks) serve the needs of the people living within walking distance of the park. Neighbourhood parks create opportunities for recreation (e.g. walking, meeting friends, picnics, playing games and informal sports) by offering amenities such as lawns, gardens, seating areas, pathways and playgrounds. Neighbourhood parks can also contribute to community cohesion by providing a sense of place for a neighbourhood, especially where it incorporates a significant feature of the landscape or a historic site.

Regional or district parks cater for the needs of the broader settlement. Regional parks are not only larger in size than neighbourhood parks, they usually offer multiple and diverse activities and amenities. In addition to gardens, seating areas, walking paths and lawns, these regional parks often include playgrounds, fitness trails, sports fields and picnic spots. Larger parks are sometimes able to accommodate events like craft markets, park runs, fairs and concerts. The parks are visited regularly by people who may not live locally and who use public transport or private motor vehicles to visit the park. These parks can also be successfully clustered with certain social facilities (see Section H.4.4) or co-located with other open spaces such as sites for urban agriculture. Sometimes drop-off facilities for recyclable materials (see Section M.4.3.5) or even buy-back centres (see Section M.4.3.2) are also located at district or regional parks.


Figure G.5: Neighbourhood parks can accommodate a range of activities


Playgrounds are spaces specifically provided for use by children. These facilities usually form part of a park, or they could be combined with social facilities such as clinics, community halls or libraries. Where possible, playgrounds should be located close to primary schools or Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres to facilitate the sharing of facilities. Where playgrounds form part of a park or a social facility, they should be located relatively close to entrance and exit points (but away from busy perimeter roads) and traversing pathways, so that surveillance can be optimised.

The area and dimensions of a playground vary according to the nature of the play equipment and whether the playground is part of a park, another open space or a social facility. Playgrounds should nevertheless be small enough to enable easy supervision.

Requirements for play structures and playground surfacing are addressed in SANS 51176: General requirements and test methods for playground equipment8 and SANS 51177: Impact attenuating playground surfacing9.

Figure G.6: Playgrounds are often incorporated into a park


(iii) Sites for urban agriculture

Urban agriculture, urban farming or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around a village, town or city. Urban agriculture can include animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping and vegetable gardening. Sometimes referred to as productive open spaces, the sites are often specifically used for fuelwood planting, cultivation and harvesting of medicinal plants for traditional healing purposes, and grazing for livestock.


Sites for urban agriculture are becoming increasingly important due to concerns about climate change and sustaining food security in settlements. In addition, urban agriculture enables people to participate in the local economy and may also support cultural practices and the production of medicinal plants.

Urban agriculture initiatives are usually community based. Such open spaces may be within or close to low-income areas or accessible to the communities that are dependent on them. The size of this type of open space will vary, depending on the availability of suitable land, as well as the type of crop or livestock. Sites for urban agriculture are typically not open to the general public, but they could be combined with other social facilities such as education facilities or community centres.

Photo credit: Sibahle Community Projects Figure G.7: Urban agriculture in a residential neighbourhood


(iv) Sports fields

Space used for organised sports can be provided in different ways. Five general types of sports facilities can be identified: stadia, fields, pools, courts and halls.10 Certain types, such as fields and pools, can also be used for recreation (that is mostly not part of organised sports) such as walking, jogging and swimming.

It often makes sense to locate sports fields in close proximity to educational facilities or other sports facilities in order to facilitate the sharing of facilities between different user groups. Schools may for instance use the facilities during the day, while sports clubs can use them after hours or at weekends. The area and dimensions of such a sports field cluster vary according to the quantity and range of sporting codes to be accommodated, the space requirements of each sporting code, and the degree to which field markings can be overlaid to reduce space requirements. For specific field dimensions, consult the Department of Sport and Recreation’s guidelines.11

Figure G.8: Various types of sports fields can be provided at community level

G.3.3.2 Types of hard open space

Hard open space (including squares, streets, public transport stops and parking lots) is a fundamental form-giving element in a neighbourhood (see Section F.4.6), but also provides opportunities for social interaction, economic activity and movement.

(i) Squares

Squares (sometimes referred to as plazas or piazzas) take on various forms in South African settlements. A square can be a large, paved open space with prominent buildings fronting onto the space and outdoor restaurants that are open throughout the day and evening. It may also have water features, informal traders and seating for workers during their lunch breaks. Local needs should determine the exact nature of the square to be developed, but certain universal characteristics can be identified.

Squares should be civic spaces to be used by local communities. Therefore, they are ideally located centrally in a neighbourhood where they are visible and easily accessible. Traditionally, town or city squares have held symbolic meaning as places of remembrance or celebration, reflecting shared community values. Squares are used for a


variety of activities, including trade, outdoor dining, roller skating, political rallies, meeting people and concerts. Retailing often forms an important component of hard open spaces and may include formal shops as well as permanent or temporary outdoor markets. Quite often, informal trading on neighbouring sidewalks or in nearby parking lots take advantage of the pedestrian traffic created by the activities on the square.


The use of a square may change during the course of the day, week and even the year. Facilities such as restaurants, cafés, cinemas and libraries with late-night hours should be encouraged to locate alongside squares to extend the usage of the square beyond office hours. The area and dimensions of a square vary according to the functions it is intended to perform, as well as the space that is available.

Photo credit: Roadie.co.za (L) Figure G.9: Squares can take on various forms

(ii) Streets

Streets not only facilitate movement and access, they can also fulfil a range of other functions (see Section F.4.1). Streets make up a significant proportion of public space (especially in urban areas) and people often depend on streets for socialising, trading and recreation. (See Section G.2.3.2.) Therefore, streets should be safe places for everyone – for pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers of motor vehicles (see Section F.4.1.5).


A focus on people

“A key ingredient of good street design is that it is designed for people, whether those people are driving, biking, taking the bus, walking, or pausing within their surrounds. Inviting streets must typically be safe and comfortable for users, and interesting as well. In short, the street itself must become a place worth going to.”12


Photo credit: Annemarie Loots Figure G.10: Examples of streets designed for people

(iii) Public transport stops

In South African neighbourhoods, public transport stops primarily include neighbourhood minibus taxi stops, neighbourhood minibus taxi ranks and bus stops (catering for municipal buses, Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) buses and others, such as long distance buses and Gautrain buses). These public transport stops should be located in places that are accessible to users (see Section F.4. for guidance on the role that public transport stops play in the layout and structure of neighbourhoods). The locations of bus stops are usually determined when bus routes are planned. Bus stops should be regarded as public open space and should therefore be carefully planned and designed.

Minibus taxi stops are usually not planned in advance and taxis often pick up or drop off commuters at undesignated spaces anywhere along the street.13 However, as routes become established, stops become more permanent. Local minibus taxis also have a need for ranks or waiting areas during off-peak hours. These informal open spaces are often located near important interchanges or on the edges of neighbourhoods or simply where sufficient and conveniently located unused space is available. Unfortunately, the informal taxi stops and ranks are sometimes located at places that pose safety risks to the taxi drivers and their passengers as well as to other street users (including pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicle drivers). Efforts should be made to engage taxi organisations in the planning and design of minibus taxi stops and ranks in neighbourhoods.

Often, minibus taxi stops become informal hubs, and the street in the immediate vicinity is transformed into a busy place where people gather. Passengers are exchanging between vehicles or between transport modes and these places usually have high pedestrian and vehicle traffic flows at certain times of the day. While some commuters may move on immediately, some have to wait for vehicles to pick them up. Provision should be made for people to queue and to wait comfortably. At taxi ranks, facilities for washing and cleaning of taxis may be provided. For more information as well as guidance regarding the planning and design of transport stops, consult the NMT Facility Guidelines14 developed by the Department of Transport.

(iv) Parking lots

Parking for motorised vehicles can be provided in a number of ways, including on-street parking bays, parking garages and designated open air parking lots. Open air parking lots can be regarded as hard open spaces and should ideally be deliberately planned and designed as such. They can be located adjacent to shopping centres,


Photo credit: Gandhi Square Precinct, Johannesburg (L); Chris Kirchhoff (R) -  www.brandsouthafrica.com Figure G.11: Examples of different types of public transport stops

office blocks and public buildings. The size and dimensions of these parking lots would depend on the specific needs of the building or area that it serves and would be determined by the by-laws and land use scheme of the local municipality. Unused vacant land could also be used as open air parking lots.

Parking lots should cater for both vehicles and pedestrians. Walkways for pedestrians should be clearly designated and must be protected from vehicular traffic. Quite often, informal traders sell their goods in parking lots. The paving, vegetation (including trees to provide shade) and public furniture used for parking lots will contribute to the quality of the open space. Opportunities exist to use these large (usually) paved areas for services other than parking (e.g. for markets, gatherings or skate boarding and other games), especially after office hours or on weekends.

Photo credit: Shawn Greyling Figure G.12: Parking lots can be used for a range of activities


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The Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide
Creating Sustainable Human Settlements

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