Reconceptualising urban public open spaces: a case of Freedom Square in Mangaung, South Africa
Sinxadi, Mildred Lindelwa
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Urban public open spaces play a critical part in sustainable neighbourhoods. In recent years, urban public open spaces are gradually disappearing, and this affect the spatial patterns of urban land use. Enabling extensive interaction of all urban stakeholders has been described as a panacea for curbing the incidence of encroachment. However, the existence of different perceptions by these stakeholders concerning the value and usefulness of these spaces poses a challenge to effective management. This has resulted in planning, economic, environmental, recreational, and housing value conflicts. Also, available evidence indicates that the value of urban public open spaces has been neglected by urban stakeholders as the focus is on planning for other land uses. To bridge this gap, the study sought to reconceptualise urban public open spaces in order to maximise its value, as well as to develop a framework for managing value conflicts, thereby enabling effective urban open space management in Mangaung, Free State province in South Africa. This study adopted a case study research design and deployed a variety of techniques such as focus group discussions, face-to face semi-structured interviews and personal observation for data elicitation at different intervals. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with purposively recruited town planning, human settlements and environmental management professionals from local government. The focus group discussants included community members who have encroached upon urban public open spaces and those owning properties around open spaces. Also, observations were conducted around the study area. The data was then analysed thematically, and the findings were used to test the propositions through intracase and cross-case study analysis. The study identified barriers in planning and management of urban public open spaces in Mangaung. These included lack of understanding of the value and utilisation of urban public open space; lack of planning and implementation, education and empowerment as well as communication to engender community participation; evidence of the varying value conflicts among the urban stakeholders; and absence of the management of the variety of perspectives during the planning and management of urban public open spaces. It was observed that lack of understanding of the value and usefulness of urban public open spaces led to urban public open space encroachment. The findings gave rise to the development of an Urban Public Open Space Management Framework. This framework indicates that effective community participation and effective value conflict management can lead to effective urban public open space management that will help to curb the incidence of urban public open space encroachment. It is expected that the framework would guide planning professionals, other professionals and policymakers involved in urban planning to plan and manage urban public open spaces effectively within the province and beyond.
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