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Considering urban green space and informal backyard rentals in South Africa: Disproving the compensation hypothesis

Louis Lategan
Juaneé Cilliers


This research reflects on planning for urban green space and the related impact of informal backyard rental densification in South Africa, based on the ‘compensation hypothesis’. Informal backyard dwellings may increase densities substantially, occupying private green space, but often without reciprocal increases in public urban green space area. According to the compensation hypothesis, residents with limited access to private green space are more likely to seek compensation elsewhere. This research employs qualitative and quantitative analyses to investigate access to, and use of green spaces in the Bridgton and Bongolethu townships, Oudtshoorn. Findings disprove the compensation hypothesis, showing that proximate public green spaces are used sporadically, not correlating to increased densities. The number of backyard dwellings does not result in compensation behaviour, but an increased number of backyard tenants affect perceptions of green space availability and privacy. Although the compensation hypothesis is disproved in this case, findings probe the need to reconsider urban green space planning within low-cost areas, particularly considering densification impacts, linked to quality of life. As such, accessibility to public green spaces, as well as their function and form should be questioned as part of broader spatial planning approaches.

Keywords: Compensation hypothesis, ecosystem services, informal backyard rentals, urban green space