Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town. With Cape Town being one of the most growing but also biodiversity-rich cities in the world, settlements such as Khayelitsha are also growing. This creates needs for better management of green spaces. Photo: Julyinireland/Flickr

Dealing with urban sprawl

Co-management at the fringes

Urban growth raises new challenges to successful natural resource management

Co-management brings together resource users and fosters conflict-resolution and encourages stakeholder participation. That's the rhetoric, at least. The reality is that co-management frequently involves long and contested processes of interaction.

What is less understood is how co-management plays out in urban areas. Of particular interest is co-management that takes place on the urban fringe in cities of the Global South.

In a new article published in Ecology and Society, centre researchers Marnie Graham and Henrik Ernstson have studied an example of how co-management has been applied in Cape Town.

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One of the most biodiversity-rich and economically polarised cities in the world, Cape Town also experiences exceptional urban sprawl, extending into areas of high ecological importance. The city fringe has become the site for growing informal settlements as well as more formal developments.

Conflicts over how best to use urban green space loom large....

Co-management and conflict
In their study, Graham and Ernstson looked at attempts to co-manage Macassar Dunes, located on Cape Town's geographic urban fringe. Identified as a core conservation site within the City's Biodiversity Network, Macassar Dunes boasts a protected strand of endangered vegetation and provides habitat for marine life, including seals, great white sharks and dolphins.

However, Macassar Dunes also lies on the doorstep of one of South Africa's largest 'township' areas, Khayelitsha, home to between 450 000 and one million people. More than half of Khayelitsha's residents live below the poverty line, many in informal settlements such as eNkanini, - home to some 16 000 people and directly bordering Macassar Dunes.

Co-management gets people together, but...
In their article Graham and Ernstson identified stakeholder perceptions of bridges and barriers to co-management in the Macassar Dunes area. They found that the co-management arrangements face serious legitimacy, trust and commitment issues, and that it has been a long and stilted process involving much conflict.

But they also found that many stakeholders find 'common ground' on issues such as the value of community education and awareness raising campaigns. The co-management project has, for instance, strengthened the linkages between government staff, researchers, and local communities, helping community members to get involved in conservation management:
"It was a successful project, we had 15 volunteers that we trained in the basic practice of conservation, and communication skills and awareness, and general information around Macassar Dunes.(...) we were amazed by how the community were kind of taking the initiative," said one interviewee from Khayelitsha.

At the end of the day, an overall lack of results and progression have caused many people to lose interest in participating in the co-management arrangements. Others maintain hope the arrangements will progress to meet both community development and conservation aims.

"We believe this case demonstrates that the practice of co-management is not just about managing resources but also fundamentally about managing relationships. And this includes all of those complex relationships existing between humans, non-humans and the places which stakeholders seek to co-manage", says Marnie Graham.

Stay tuned....
With increased urbanisation the world over, biodiversity conservation measures are bound to become more frequent as natural resource management engages the 'urban fringe'. The question is whether current natural resource management practice and theory is "up to the task".

"Given there is little research on biodiversity management at the fringes of growing cities in the Global South, new methods and theories need to be developed for, and from, the places with which they seek to interact," Marnie Graham concludes.

She hopes co-management theory can become more sensitive to the different ways of knowing and understanding urban green spaces. Since co-management often brings together diverse stakeholders. Graham and Ernstson believe the urban fringe can provide 'opportunity space' for (re)negotiating the meanings and uses of urban green spaces.

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Graham, M. and H. Ernstson. 2012. Co-management at the Fringes: Examining Stakeholder Perspectives at Macassar Dunes, Cape Town, South Africa -- at the Intersection of High Biodiversity, Urban Poverty, and Inequality. Ecology and Society 17(3):34. [online]

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About the authors
Marnie Graham is a co-tutelle PhD student at the Department of Systems Ecology at Stockholm University and the Department of Environment & Geography at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Henrik Ernstson is the principal investigator of two Formas-funded research projects at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, now working at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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