The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU PhD candidate successfully defends thesis on infrastructure as practice in Johannesburg

5 January 2021

Congratulations to Kerry Bobbins who successfully defended her thesis that, in practice, general concepts of green infrastructure become what actors can claim ownership of and which uncertainties they can manage at project sites.


Green infrastructure has emerged as a promising concept for urban development, where policymakers consider it to offer a range of benefits for the economy, society and the environment. While literature tends to illuminate its many benefits for urban development in measured scientific and financial terms to support a policy rhetoric, less is known about how green infrastructure concepts are used in practice.

In her PhD thesis, Kerry Bobbins contends that green infrastructure comes to exist in practice as part of a social process, where project level actors such as government officials, private sector professionals and members of civil society negotiate its many meanings in response to their interests, local context and historic setting. To explore how green infrastructure evolves as part of a social process, she develops a practice theory approach to investigate how they are conceptualised in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Kerry uses an abductive research design to explore how 74 participants conceptualise green infrastructure in Johannesburg. She gathered their accounts using in-depth interviews at the city level, before focusing on Bruma Lake and Paterson Park, which were identified as two striking examples of green infrastructure projects.

At both projects, a form of green infrastructure called river renaturalisation was used to address water pollution (Bruma Lake) and flooding concerns (Paterson Park). Exploring these two projects in more detail enabled her to illuminate how green infrastructure was conceptualised as part of a social process, where participants drew on the concept in a variety of ways at different points in time.

Her findings reveal that green infrastructure concepts were practiced through participant’s activities to leave a manageable and viable legacy. Interests to leave a legacy brought actors together where it encouraged them to carry out activities to claim ownership to manage the uncertainties they faced around the future of the project sites, technical parameters of the projects and civil society interests. She concludes that by carrying out activities to leave a legacy, participants (re)conceptualised the meanings of green infrastructure over time, where they could be held individually or shared among participants.