Johannesburg as an Urban Forest


Johannesburg has one of the world's largest urban forest. According to a recent survey by Treepedia, an initiative supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the World Economic Forum (WEF), our city ranks sixth in the world in terms of tree coverage, with almost a quarter of the city covered in trees. According to City Parks and Zoo, there are about ten million trees in Johannesburg, most of which are in private gardens.

Tree coverage in the World's ten greenest cities Source: Treepedia
  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands — 20.6%
  2. Geneva, Switzerland — 21.4%
  3. Frankfurt, Germany — 21.5%
  4. Sacramento, California — 23.6%
  5. Johannesburg, South Africa — 23.6%
  6. Durban, South Africa — 23.7%
  7. Cambridge, Massachusetts — 25.3%
  8. Vancouver, Canada — 25.9%
  9. Sydney, Australia — 25.9%
  10. Singapore — 29.3%

This urban forest is under threat - in particular from the Council's own objective of increasing densities to 1,500 people per (roughly 300 dwelling units / hectare). This is meant to redress spatial inequities inherited from the apartheid area, and to create a more integrated and sustainable urban form over time. The Spatial Development Framework, adopted in 2016, is the primary tool for achieving this aim.

Johannesburg's Spatial Development Framework and associated densities


At present, there is no systematic protection for Johannesburg's Urban Forest - while trees on streets and parks are protected to some extent, trees on private grounds are not.

While the Council has acknowledged the importance of the Natural environment at the outset in the Spatial Development Framework, no specific provisions for tree protection were included in the Municipal Planning By-Law.


More importantly, the Council has failed to recognize the urban forest in its 'Critical Biodiversity Areas' - the forest is subsumed into 'built-up areas' in the map below from the SDF.


In light of increasing development pressures across Johannesburg, it has therefore become vital to protect our urban forest. Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance (JUFA) has proposed amendments to the draft Land Use Scheme Section 2, Part IV which would ensure enforceable tree protection regulations. The Land Use Scheme will be a critical regulatory instrument, as it will supersede all existing town planning schemes, and prescribe development obligations across Johannesburg. As it stands, there is no proper provision for tree protection in the draft version, or in the associated Built Environment Guidelines & Standards (2016/17 revision).View comments on the draft Land Use Scheme

JUFA has launched a public petition in support of the these amendments - Sign petition here