G.3.3.3 Factors to consider when planning for public open space

Factors that influence the size and number of public open spaces to be provided in a particular neighbourhood or settlement vary depending on the type of open space. For instance, decisions regarding the provision of nature reserves are usually informed by the presence of environmentally sensitive areas rather than, say, the number of possible users, as in the case of certain parks. When making decisions regarding the size and number of parking lots, other factors would be considered, such as the specific needs of the buildings or areas that they serve, and the by-laws and land use scheme of the local municipality. However, in general, open spaces should be placed throughout a settlement in such a way that they can be shared equitably by all residents. A number of issues would usually guide decisions in this regard, as discussed below.

(i) The availability and capacity of existing public open spaces

Residents not only use public open spaces that are located within their own neighbourhoods, but also public open spaces that are available in adjacent neighbourhoods or elsewhere in the settlement. Information on the number, capacity and location of existing public open spaces in and around the proposed development has to be considered (see Section G.3.2.1). The need to provide certain open spaces (e.g. parks, sites for urban agriculture, squares and sports fields) will in some cases be influenced by the presence or absence of open space in neighbouring areas and the capacity of these spaces to accommodate additional users.

(ii) The demographic profile of the residents

Another aspect that might influence the provision of certain types of public open space (e.g. parks, sites for urban agriculture, sports fields and squares) is the demographic profile of the residents of the area to be developed and of nearby neighbourhoods. Different groupings (e.g. retired people, families or single people) may use these open spaces for different purposes and they may even use them at different times of the day. A clear understanding of the differentiated needs that exist will contribute to open spaces that are appropriately designed to meet users’ needs. However, the composition of the residents living in an area will change over time, with the demographic profile also likely to change.

Socio-economic status and income levels may have an impact on the type and location of parks, sites for urban agriculture, sports fields and squares. For instance, shorter travel distances to public open spaces should be prioritised in lower-income areas, as residents often have to walk (costs may prohibit them from using private or public transport) to gain access to these spaces. Certain open spaces e.g. sites for urban agriculture sometimes respond directly to the needs of lower-income communities and might be appropriate as part of such developments. People with higher incomes may select to use squares and sports fields provided by the private sector, even if these facilities are not conveniently located.

(iii) The needs of the community

If the future residents of a greenfield development are known, they could be included in the development process and could potentially inform decisions regarding the provision of public open space (see Section E). The residents of neighbourhoods surrounding a proposed development could also provide useful information to guide decisions regarding public open space. Information regarding open space needs may also be included in the municipal IDP.


(iv) Population density

Decisions regarding the provision of certain types of public open space are guided by the number of potential users in a particular area. The number and size of such open spaces can be calculated based on an estimated area (hectare) per 1 000 people. Estimated areas for parks are indicated in Table G.1. The number and size of these types of open spaces are therefore linked to population density (see Section F.4.2.4 and Section H.3.3.1 (ii)). Generally, in areas with relatively high population densities, the size of certain facilities may have to be increased (compared to those provided in areas with lower densities), or more of the smaller facilities may have to be provided.

(v) Access distance

Access distance refers to the distance that people have to travel (usually from where they stay) to reach an open space. In some instances it is important to consider access distances, especially regarding open spaces such as parks, sports fields and squares. Guidance regarding ideal maximum access distances is provided in Table G.1. The area within the polygon created by these distances around a particular facility is regarded as the service catchment area. Access distances are influenced by a range of factors including the topography (e.g. flat or hilly terrain), street layout (e.g. permeable or impermeable for pedestrians), the availability of public transport, and the setting of the area (urban, peri-urban or rural). Parks, squares and sports fields that are accessed frequently by a large portion of the community should ideally be located relatively close to the target population to ensure short travelling distances and walkability (refer to Section F.4.2.2 for a discussion on walkable neighbourhoods) for potential users of the space.

Access distance is not a determining factor in the location of all types of open space, e.g. nature reserves, public transport stops and parking lots.


Parks, squares and sports fields: Making decisions on the type, size and location

Detailed guidance regarding the equitable provision of various types of social facilities and public open space, such as parks and sports fields, is provided in the CSIR Guidelines for the Provision of Social Facilities in South African Settlements. 15

The guidelines are supported by a web-based decision-making tool, the CSIR Space Planner.16 Once a set of requirements (standards) for park or sports field provision has been agreed, this tool can be used to determine the impact of a specific development on the facility demand and to calculate the required space and facilities. Impact estimates are calculated for the range of facilities to be provided of specified capacity and the land area required for the provision of the said facilities.

For guidance on the application of differentiated provision standards in non-metropolitan areas (delivering parks and sports fields to rural areas), make use of the Social Facility Provision Toolkit 17 of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, which is populated with predefined standards. With this toolkit, demand can be calculated for any population size or for 1 328 predefined regional service catchment areas in South Africa for which population statistics are provided.


Table G.1: Sizes and access distances relevant to certain types of parks
Description Ideal minimum provision/
1 000 people
Ideal maximum access
General provision 0.4 ha per 1 000 people -
Neighbourhood park
Small (optimum size of between 1 ha and 1.5 ha) landscaped open space serving the immediate local community/neighbourhood (within walking distance). These parks usually cater for informal recreation and often include play equipment.
0.3 ha/ 1 000 people 1.5 km or 20-minute walk
Community park
Larger than the neighbourhood park (optimum size of 3.5 ha), this landscaped open space serves several surrounding local communities or suburbs. These parks generally cater for a wider range of activities.
2-3 km or 30-minute walk
Regional/District park
Large, multi-functional parks (minimum site size of 2 ha) that meet the wide-ranging needs of the district/ regional community. These parks often preserve unique and extensive landscapes (an example is a botanical garden).
0.1 ha/ 1 000 people 10 km or 15-minute travel by public transport
The provision ratios provided in the table above could be lowered if parks are clustered with sports fields. The general guideline for the provision of neighbourhood sports fields (excluding large facilities that cater for sports at regional or international competition level) is that the land requirement should not exceed 0.56 ha/1000 people. These sports fields should ideally have a maximum access distance of between 5 and 10 km.

While it is important to provide quality open spaces that meet the needs of the community, it is also critical to ensure that these spaces can be maintained within operational budgets over the long term. The quantity of improved open space (specifically parks) is sometimes emphasised at the expense the quality of the space provided. Generally it is preferable to provide the largest possible space within the specified distance to consolidate maintenance and operation efforts and costs.




Cemeteries are usually zoned as public open space that is set aside for burial purposes. Decisions regarding the sizes of cemeteries and their distribution throughout the settlement should be coordinated at a municipal level. For a method to calculate cemetery site sizes and guidelines about population thresholds and access distances to be considered in the planning for cemeteries, consult the CSIR Guidelines for the Provision of Social Facilities in South African Settlements18 and the Social Facility Provision Toolkit19 of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Conventional cemeteries take up large tracts of land and municipalities often have difficulty finding land that is both available and suitable for this use. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is mandatory for the establishment of a cemetery. One of the reasons why an EIA is required is because the decomposition of buried human corpses, the substances used to embalm the body, and even the materials used to manufacture caskets, could potentially result in water source contamination. Therefore, to determine whether or not a particular site is suitable for burial purposes, the following questions should be asked:20

  • What are the soil and geotechnical conditions on the site? This is relevant as soils and underlying rock formations with, for example, high permeability or high moisture content might not be suitable for cemeteries.
  • What are the groundwater conditions on the site? The water table should not be too shallow as a buffer zone is required between the bottom of the grave and the top of the groundwater table. Also, cemeteries should ideally not be located in areas of groundwater recharge or close to groundwater abstraction points. Both groundwater and surface water sources may become even more vulnerable in areas with high rainfall.
  • Is the proposed site located within a 1-in-50-year floodline of a river? In general, cemeteries should not be located near any water bodies e.g. wetlands, pans, estuaries and floodplains.
  • Does the site slope? Site drainage should ensure minimal ingress of surface water into the graves.

The most prevalent form of burial in South Africa is in-ground. This places a substantial demand on land, but alternatives, such as cremation or burying more than one family member in a grave, could reduce this demand. However, not everyone favours alternative methods, and other ways of reducing the need for land for traditional cemeteries, as well as the negative impact of cemeteries on the environment, should be considered. Concepts such as ‘green cemeteries’ or ‘eco-cemeteries’ should be explored, since they provide a more natural environment for burials, allowing them to also be used as a parkland or a natural habitat for animals. In these types of cemeteries, trees, stones and other natural materials are often used to mark graves rather than conventional tombstones.

For more detailed information, see Good Practices in Cemeteries Management21, produced by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). Refer to municipal by-laws for regulations regarding the procedures, methods and practices related to burial and the provision of grave plots in a municipality.


G.4 Design considerations

This section outlines the factors that need to be considered when incorporating open space into the design of a development. This section is closely linked to Section F.4 that deals with the design of the street and plot layout of a neighbourhood. It is important to refer to Section F.4.6 in particular when designing open space, since it provides more detail regarding the relationship between public open space and neighbourhood layout and structure.

As outlined in Section G.3.3, open spaces can take on various forms, including squares, streets, public transport stops, parking lots, nature reserves, parks, sports fields and sites for urban agriculture. There are significant differences between the different types and also between the different manifestations of each type. For instance, the nature and form of a park differ completely from those of a street, while the characteristics of a small neighbourhood park are not the same as those of a large regional park.

It is not the purpose of this Guide to provide detail guidance on the design of each and all of the different types of public open space. However, some level of detail is provided with respect to the design of streets, given their particular range of functions and links to other aspects of neighbourhood design. This information is provided in Section F.4.1 and Section I.4. More information regarding the design of specific types of open space is also available in other guideline documents such as the Draft Guidelines for the Provision of Open Space, 2017 22.

A number of generic features have been identified that may be relevant to most types of open space, as well as certain aspects that would have to be considered when making design decisions regarding any of these features.

This section gives guidance regarding the design of the following generic features:

  • Edges and interfaces
  • Access and movement
  • Surfaces and vegetation
  • Public furniture and amenities

When considering the information provided below, it is important to remember that decisions related to the design of an open space should ultimately be guided by the characteristics of that particular open space and the surrounding area, as well as by local requirements and contextual features.


Designing inclusive public open spaces

When designing public open spaces and associated structures, fittings and furniture, care should be taken to create spaces that are as inclusive as possible. This means that such spaces should be welcoming and as accessible as possible to all people, including those with disabilities. More information is provided in Section O.2.

Sometimes certain open space components are designed to purposely and actively prevent or discourage certain residents from using a particular open space. This controversial approach is sometimes referred to as hostile or defensive architecture, or hostile design. It is usually aimed at vulnerable members of a community such as the homeless, but it could also negatively affect other people, including people with disabilities and small children. It is important to carefully consider the implications of design decisions aimed at preventing certain groups of people from using a public open space and to attempt to identify more inclusive alternatives.


G.4.1 Edges and interfaces

The boundary of an open space forms the interface between the open space and the surrounding urban fabric. The design of this boundary can influence how different land uses relate to each other. Public open space is often surrounded by private properties and the treatment of the interface between these properties and the public open space should therefore be considered carefully.


The quality of the edge between an open space and adjacent plots, or between different types of open space such as a park and a street, often plays an important role in the way in which the space is being used. In general, a clearly demarcated open space will improve the legibility of the space, which will assist people in orientating themselves and experiencing the space in a more positive way.

The edge or boundary of an open space could be defined or demarcated in various ways, depending on factors such as the local setting, the type of open space and the nature of the edge. The nature of edges could be determined by aspects such as land use, setbacks, parking requirements, access and visibility. Issues to consider when designing open space edges and interfaces include the following:

  • Public open space should be integrated into the surrounding neighbourhood and, as far as possible, should not be physically or visibly isolated. This means that edges should be designed in such a way that they define the space without completely closing it off from adjacent spaces or limiting convenient access to the space. However, the degree to which a particular space is closed in and access is controlled will be determined by the type and location of that space.
  • Ideally, spaces such as parks and squares should not be closed off or fenced in, to allow people to access and use the space unhindered. Walls and fences that restrict access may discourage legitimate users from accessing the space. This may result in the space being used for illicit activities and it becoming unsafe for those who want to use it for its intended purpose. It may also have a negative impact on the permeability of the neighbourhood (see Section F.4.1.1) and close off pedestrian routes, further reducing the number of casual users frequenting the space and thus limiting opportunities for natural surveillance (see Section O.1).
  • In some cases there may be a valid reason why some form of fencing would be required and entrance and exit points may have to be limited, for instance to create a barrier between the users of the space and vehicular traffic in an adjoining street. Also, if a park is bordered by private houses, a secure fence separating the spaces may be required. In such instances a fence that allows for visual contact with and from adjoining spaces should be used if at all possible. Entrance and exit points should be positioned along the boundary in such a way that visitors can conveniently and safely enter and exit the park. Where applicable, the positions of the entrance and exit points should acknowledge pedestrian desire lines and public transport stops.
  • For certain types of open space, the provision of a secure boundary and relatively few entrances and exits may be essential. For instance, it is often necessary to fence in sports fields, nature reserves, spaces for urban agriculture and parking lots for practical or security reasons. In such cases, solid high perimeter walls that prevent visual contact with and from neighbouring spaces should be avoided as far as possible. Blank walls facing the neighbouring spaces may create dreary or desolate areas that may not be safe for pedestrians or other people using these areas.
  • The boundaries of soft open spaces such as parks can often be defined by means of the surface treatment. The horizontal surface of a soft open space may be covered with grass or other vegetation, and the adjoining space may have a hard surface (e.g. a sidewalk or street). Low fencing, shrubs or bollards could also be used to demarcate the edge.


  • If buildings (whether public or private) are located on the perimeter of an open space, opportunities for natural surveillance (see Section O.1) from these buildings should be provided if possible. For instance, if a space such as a park or square is bordered by housing, windows should be provided in the walls facing the open space. Transparent fencing should be used between the open space and adjacent housing rather than solid boundary walls.
  • Hard open spaces such as squares and streets can often be visually defined by placing vertical elements such as buildings or trees on the edges, thereby creating a ‘sense of enclosure’ (see Figure G.13). The interface between an open space and buildings facing the space should be designed with care to ensure that an active edge is created as opposed to a blank wall facing the space. An active edge can be created by providing frequent openings (exits and entrances) in the facades of the buildings facing the open space to encourage pedestrian activity as people come and go from buildings. If required, trees and shrubs could be used to soften the appearance of building facades. In the case of streets, the elements of the road reserve (see Section F.4.1.5) and the facades of the buildings along the street should be designed in an integrated way. Create an inviting and safe environment for people by clearly demarcating the sidewalk and locating activity generators such as shops, cafes, businesses and social facilities at ground level.
Photo credit: Mary Alexander (R) - www.brandsouthafrica.com Figure G.13: Buildings and trees visually define the edge of a space and create a ‘sense of enclosure’

The use of fencing

“The fencing-off of parks and similar open spaces is usually inadvisable. Barriers may deter legitimate users from entering, and reduce movement through these spaces, and thereby hamper natural surveillance. They may also provide a false sense of security since fences does not always prevent those with criminal intent from entering. It may often be sufficient to demarcate a specific area through the use of low, transparent fences, for instance to define a playground for children”23 (see Figure G.14).


Figure G.14: Low fencing and elements such as bollards could be used to define a space

G.4.2 Access and movement

When making decisions regarding access to, and movement around and within, open spaces, the following should be taken into consideration:

  • Open spaces can be linked to the surrounding area by extending neighbourhood pedestrian and cycle routes into or through the open space. Where applicable, entrances and exits, as well as routes through an open space, should acknowledge existing pedestrian desire lines. Care should be taken to ensure that vehicles, pedestrians and other non-motorised transport have safe access to an open space. Streets and sidewalks bordering the open space, as well as related intersections, pedestrian crossings and entrance and exit routes should be designed with care. For detailed design guidance on pedestrian crossings, refer to the Department of Transport’s National Technical Requirement 1: Pedestrian Crossings24 of 2016.
  • Open spaces should be accessible to all users, including people with disabilities. The principles of universal design as outlined in Section O.2 should be applied wherever possible. In particular, pathways within open spaces, and those linking such spaces to the surrounding area, should specifically be provided to accommodate wheelchair users, prams, pedestrians and cyclists (see Section I.4). They should be wide enough and the gradients should meet the requirements set out in Part S of the National Building Regulations.25
  • Pedestrians and vehicles (including non-motorised transport) should be guided through an open space in such a manner that all users are safely accommodated, and where applicable, ecologically or culturally sensitive areas within the open space are protected. Movement could for instance be guided by means of pathways and by the positioning of lighting. The presence of lighting could direct users along safe and preferred routes, while the absence of lighting could discourage them from visiting certain areas at night and guide them along a safer route (see Section G.4.4).

G.4.3 Surfaces and vegetation

To select suitable vegetation and horizontal surface-covering material for different types of open space, various factors should be considered, including the following:


  • The primary purpose of the open space will be a key determinant of the type of surface covering to be used. In some cases the choice would be obvious – for instance, parks, soccer or rugby fields would primarily have grass surfaces. Artificial (synthetic) grass is becoming popular for certain applications. However, before deciding on this option, the advantages and disadvantages should be considered. Be aware that artificial grass may not allow all rainwater to seep into the soil, it absorbs heat, and it could become very hot to the touch when exposed to sunlight.
  • In areas where children may be active and perhaps fall, such as playgrounds, a surface material should be used that meets the specifications contained in SANS 51177: Impact attenuating playground surfacing.26
  • Surfaces are often paved to provide the users of an open space with an area that is dust and mud free, especially in the case of transport stops, open parking lots, sidewalks, pathways, etc. Care should be taken to ensure that the surface material used does not pose a risk for people with disabilities or other users who may have mobility difficulties, such as the elderly. Certain paving material may be characterful and visually appealing, but they may make it difficult for these users to move safely and with ease. Where appropriate, material that assists users with disabilities to find their way should be used (see Section O.2). Paving material that allows for the comfortable movement of wheelchairs, prams, bicycles, etc. and tactile surfaces to assist those that are visually impaired, should be used where possible.
  • Where possible, open space should be designed to support the principles of Water Sensitive Design (WSD) (see Section G.2.3.1). If appropriate, integrate public open space networks with stormwater management systems (e.g. retention ponds, aquifer recharge areas and open water canals). Permeable paving could be used to allow water to drain effectively, while vegetation swales and depressions may reduce runoff (see Section L). Open spaces should be designed and landscaped appropriately to ensure that they make a positive contribution to the environment and the surrounding community, and they do not become unkempt pieces of vacant land.
  • Vegetation such as shrubs, trees and flowers should be suitable to the local habitat and climatic conditions. Select vegetation options that reduce water consumption, increase shading and can potentially adapt to climate change conditions, e.g. by having a wide temperature tolerance range. Minimise the use and reliance on potable water. Investigate options for rainwater harvesting, stormwater harvesting or greywater harvesting (see Section J.4.2).
Photo credit: Annemarie Loots (R) Figure G.15: Vegetation could help to create open spaces that are interesting and inviting


G.4.4 Public furniture and amenities

Public furniture (also known as street furniture) refers to seating, waste bins, water features, lighting fixtures, etc. that are used in open spaces. The comfort of all potential users should be considered when decisions are made about the provision of public furniture. The following should be kept in mind:

  • All public open spaces, in particular movement routes and areas where people would congregate (e.g. transport stops, parking lots and sidewalks) must be well lit at night to ensure the safety of users. Light fittings should be chosen according to the function they need to fulfil. For instance, low-level lights could be used to illuminate pathways, while certain parks or squares may require higher-level lights that illuminate large areas (see Figure G.16).
Figure G.16: Lighting can improve safety and can create a pleasant atmosphere
  • In most instances, public furniture should be robust and the material used should be able to withstand the elements and being misused.
  • Where appropriate, public furniture should be multi-functional. For instance, planters or bollards could be designed in such a way that they can double as seating (see Figure G.17).


Photo credit: Annemarie Loots (L) Figure G.17: Public furniture includes bollards and planters that can also be used as seating
  • Public furniture should accommodate the needs of different user groups. For instance, waste bins should be placed at a height that would allow children to use them. Furthermore, elements such as benches, waste bins and light fittings should be positioned in such a way that they do not obstruct routes taken by, for instance, pedestrians, cyclists or those making use of wheelchairs.
  • In certain public open spaces, it may be useful to provide amenities for informal traders. Such amenities should be located carefully in areas where there would be potential customers (e.g. where there will be foot traffic or where people will congregate such as at a transport stop). If the amenities are not well located, informal traders will not make use of them and continue to trade where they know there will be customers.
  • Streetscape elements should be aligned and visible and should not be in the way of pedestrians, cyclists or vehicles. For instance, if bollards or raised traffic islands are used, they must be either high enough to be visible to approaching drivers or be low enough that they cannot cause damage to vehicles driving over them.
  • Toilet facilities in public open spaces should always be designed carefully to ensure that all users are safe and opportunities for crime are minimised (see Section O.1). The facility should be located in an area that allows opportunities for natural surveillance from the surrounding area, for instance by locating it close to areas with high levels of activity such as a restaurant or coffee shop. Entrances should not be hidden and ample lighting should be provided.
  • Restaurants, coffee shops and similar types of amenities should be located and designed in such a way that they contribute to the creation of a safe environment. They are activity generators that increase opportunities for natural surveillance. If, for instance, a children’s playground is located near a restaurant, it will be possible for the restaurant customers to keep an eye on those using the playground.
  • In some cases, public furniture or amenities could be provided to attract visitors and thereby increase the number of people making use of a particular open space. For instance, a wishing well, water feature, robust exercise equipment or a skate park could be provided depending on the type of open space (see Figure G.18). This could have various benefits, for instance it could improve levels of actual and perceived safety and it could increase the number of shoppers or customers.


Figure G.18: By providing, for instance, exercise equipment or a skate park, people may be attracted to open spaces

Design to enable effective maintenance of public open space

Public open spaces should be regularly and effectively maintained to ensure that they remain in a functioning and useable condition. Unkempt, run-down or vandalised spaces create the impression that they are neglected and may have been abandoned by those responsible for their upkeep and management. This often creates the impression that such spaces are unsafe, which discourages legitimate users from using them. This may result in these spaces not being used at all, or they may be used for unauthorised activities rather than for the purpose initially intended. This may place a strain on the authority responsible for the open space and may negatively affect the surrounding neighbourhood.

It is therefore essential that open spaces are designed in such a way that they could be maintained relatively easily. This may mean, for instance, that materials should be specified that do not require regular, specialised or expensive maintenance. In particular, light fittings should be as durable and vandal resistant as possible (without being unsightly). Care should be taken when designing certain elements such as bins, gates and fencing to avoid them being removed to be repurposed or to be sold as scrap metal.

Figure G.19: Public furniture include lighting, benches and rubbish bins


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The Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide
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