Backyarding in South Africa

The rapid expansion of urban areas is of particular concern for decision-makers and it is important to deepen an understanding of emerging land use practices –which include backyarding. This is because the landscape of housing typologies is rapidly changing in the developing world and the emergence of backyarding has particular resonance with the South African context. This 2018 paper by Jan Brueckner (University of California, Irvine), Claus Rabe (Independent Consultant, Cape Town, South Africa) and Harris Selod (World Bank) dissects in particular, the relationship between backyarding and job access. An empirical exercise is used to analyse the economic implications of backyarding, thus developing a theoretical model to test predictions. Backyarding is seen as an efficient way of curbing the effects of increased housing demand which arise from an increase in the urban population. Backyarding is described an an efficient housing typology which serves to provide a correction to the ‘misallocation of resources’ (in the form of large parcels of land, particularly in the context of backyarding that takes place in so-called ‘RDP housing’). The current climate of the housing landscape is such that there is a unique characteristic which allows for a mixture of informal and formal tenure modes.

The paper makes use of a model which confirms that improved access to employment opportunities increases the extent of backyarding. It is also understood that residing in backyards makes a positive contribution to ones quality of life, when compared to the quality of life of residents living in informal settlements. Furthermore, the backyarding decision of the formal homeowner relies on the willingness-to-pay of renters, thus displaying the reciprocity of the backyarding phenomena. The findings indicate that there is a direct relationship between yard space consumption (by the homeowner), backyard renting and location of the home from employment opportunities. The parcel size of the stand increases the backyarding potential of homeowners, where Single Residential 1 and Single Residential 2 status of the parcels enables the growth of the backyarding phenomena. The paper also shows that backyarding is common in smaller parcels of land -where the homeowner’s income is likely to be lower.


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