Greening the City

Believe it or not, Joburg is the world’s largest man-made forest 
When you think of forests, you think of lush trees, birds twittering on fresh breezes and the feeling of soft ground underfoot – a far cry from the concrete jungle of Joburg, right? Wrong. In 2005, the world discovered that Johannesburg was home to the world’s largest man-made forest. Comparative research was carried out in leading cities and satellite images of the earth showed that Johannesburg was the most densely forested city on the globe.

Originally savannah, Johannesburg started its greening transformation about 100 years ago, strangely enough with the growth of the mining sector in the city. “In those days, mostly affluent people lived in the city centres,” says spokesperson for Johannesburg City Parks, Jenny Moodley. “Tree cover expanded as more people settled in the city and wealthy immigrants brought with them varied species of trees –  which is why many of the trees in Johannesburg are not indigenous.” Tree cover also spread through natural means of pollination and through people planting more trees themselves. Today, Johannesburg boasts as many as 10 million trees in both private and public spaces. 

“But the southern part of the city remains a dust bowl,” says Jenny. “Johannesburg City Parks is planting more trees all over Johannesburg, but specifically in the far southern and northern areas, as part of our 2010 Greening the City campaign.”

This campaign has not been without its challenges. “In Johannesburg, space is at a premium, so we need to ensure that even though our priority is to plant trees, we retain space for pedestrians to walk,” Jenny explains. “Another challenge is that the cost of planting a tree has escalated from about R350 to R1 000 for an 80mm, 2m high indigenous tree.” To overcome this problem, Johannesburg City Parks has been lobbying for companies in South Africa to adopt greening campaigns and many of them have responded positively.

The ‘green team’ has also had to deal with the loss of trees to bad weather and vandalism. Jenny says that they lose two of every ten trees planted. As a result, they are now insisting that the service providers who care for the trees maintain a 95 percent survival rate – and should they drop below the 95 percent mark, the service providers are compelled to replace the damaged trees.

In line with the 2007 mayoral aim of planting 200 000 trees before the 2010 Fifa  Soccer World Cup, Johannesburg City Parks have planted more than 93 000 trees, in the past five years. But to meet their objective, Johannesburg City Parks still has to plant 300 trees a day. 

The ‘green team’s’ work is easy to see. Jenny urges visitors to take a drive down the main roads, such as William Nicol and Old Potchefstroom Road. She says to keep an eye out for the water features and large pots they are also installing as part of the city’s greening and beautification plan.

Johannesburg City Parks has also been involved with restoring old parks to their former grandeur. “Once you’ve restored the dignity and integrity of a space, there is a greater sense of community ownership,” says Jenny. “This impacts positively on the social, economic and ecological state of the city, reducing concerns such as littering, vagrancy, vandalism and illegal dumping.”

Jenny emphasizes that greening the city has incredibly positive spin-offs. She encourages more residents to plant trees – and not just indigenous types. They should look at planting fruit trees, she says, taking into consideration the global food shortage and the need to attract and retain urban biodiversity such as birds and butterfly species. 

A breath of fresh air: OZONE DAY
This year’s International Ozone Day, celebrated on September 16, has the theme of ‘Montreal Protocol – Global Partnership for Global Benefits’. “Even though we stopped the production of CFCs in 1987 with the Montreal Protocol, we are still seeing the nasty effect of those gases on our planet,” says Specialist Scientist for the South African Weather Service, Casper Labuschagne. “Only within 60 years will the planet be effectively healed from CFC gases, provided we don’t pollute the air any further – and continue with the greening programmes.” 

Tree of life: ARBOR DAY
Celebrating Arbor Week from September 1–7, Johannesburg City Parks aims to plant over 60 000 trees in the southern parts of the city this year. The organisation has invited 15 corporates to adopt streets in the southern dust bowl, where they are each to plant 1 000 trees, marking the start of Arbor Week 2008. South Africa is slowly making climate change a priority as it realises the effects of pollution.,The trees absorb a lot of the pollution in the air, acting like natural atmosphere scrubbers.

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Go Gauteng, September 2008. 

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