Public Space and Placemaking

Youth & Public Space Workshop in Mathare!

Saturday was fun! UN-HABITAT visited the Mlango Kubwa community in Mathare slums, Nairobi to run a workshop on public space planning with local children and youth. Our friends from Up with Hope, Spatial Collective and Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Club helped us to put this event together.Though we planned for 30 participants, dozens more children showed up in the youth center, our main venue. Some of them were too young to participate, so they just watched and played. Some were eager to join the group work and we didn’t stop them. Why would we – after all, it is them, the children and young people of Mlango Kubwa that live there and thus have the right to say, what they would like to see happening with the space around them.


Joao took over the ice-breakers and energizers throughout the day to keep everyone sharp and in good mood. Dana and Tone facilitated the process. Building on the success of the Youth & Urbanization workshop that we ran at the East Africa Cup in Tanzania a week earlier, the participants started with drawing their community maps the way they see it. Unlike in Moshi, each group was working with different type of public space: Hang out spaces, sport spaces, green spaces, art spaces and safe spaces. This way we could get more comprehensive understanding of what’s going on in the community and create broader wish-lists to work with.


Once the brain work of space assessment and wish-lists was done, each group went to visit the physical spaces they identified as the best one right now and the new one to be created in future. Interestingly enough, many places overlapped (e.g. same place was chosen as the best sport space, the safest space and the best space to hang out) and also some of the things on their wish-list fitted well in more categories (e.g. swimming pool has been identified as a desirable space intervention by the safe space group as well as the hang out group). Various types of sport fields (volleyball, rugby, basketball etc.) have been also marked by more than one group.


The final poster making and presentations were fantastic too! Young people put together their work and added some action points to kick off the transformation process. With confidence and pride they presented their work to the rest of the group and few guests. The posters remain in the community for others to admire their work and as a reminder for the participants.

Well done everyone! Job well done!


3rd Public Space Biennale: Launch of the Toolkit


Launch of the Global Public Space Toolkit

Last day of the Biennale witnessed the launch of the Global Public Space Toolkit, a unique publication to help the local governments and service providers to improve the availability, quality and distribution of good public spaces. Often, public spaces are marginalized topic in planning discussions so having a document with various case studies, best practices, references and actionable ideas can be as useful for mayors and policy makers as for students, NGOs and interested individuals.

The importance of public space is undeniable, yet often underestimated. The challenge often starts with simple understanding of what public space is and who’s responsible for it. People should be aware of their role in creating and managing (or maintaining) public space; they should know that public space belongs to them, and thus strive to work together with the governments to have spaces socially acceptable for everyone. Governments cannot do the job alone, people cannot do the job alone, and private sector cannot do the job alone. Good governance and collaboration of all parties is a key to successful management of public spaces.

The toolkit will be a practical reference for local governments to frame and implement principles, policy recommendations and development initiatives on public space and for central governments to aid their efforts with material support and enabling legislation. It will also serve the purpose of demonstrating the value of the involvement if the citizenry and civil society in securing, developing and managing public space in the city.

This first editions aims to kick off the series of discussions around public space globally. With more input and changing policies and environment, the toolkit will be updated and altered to make it as relevant and appropriate as possible.


3rd Public Spaces Biennale: Public Spaces in Africa


Streets and Public Spaces as Drivers of Urban Development in Africa

The second day kicked off with very interesting session dedicated to the various interventions of public spaces across Africa. Panellists from various institutions and organizations showcased their work in some of Africa’s major cities, including Kigali, Nairobi and Porto-Novo. And what are the main findings?

First of all, it is important for us to understand that public spaces in Africa are nothing like the ones in Europe. Not only they look different, they have different functions. Public spaces in Africa are there for people to meet, interact with each other, buy and sell food, exchange goods and most importantly, they are spaces for dialogue. Traditionally, people are meeting in the streets or any other outside open space to discuss anything from politics to football.

What is public and who’s in charge of it? That is a question that many people ask as the word “public” does not necessarily have a positive connotation due to government’s scandals and reputation. Also, many public spaces are not so public after all. Unfortunately, urban divide and class segregation is a growing phenomenon in the African capitals, providing nice public spaces such as swimming pools, parks and gardens for the upper class, nicely gated from the rest. Another challenge is the lack of space in informal settlements, making it very hard to provide for any area that could be turn into well designed and functioning public space. Accessibility goes without saying – what kind of public space would it be if you need a car to get there?

People need to be consulted and engaged in the mapping and design, otherwise we’re asking for trouble and failure. Urban planners and architects do not know it all, although they may possess a piece of paper that says otherwise. Not taking the complexities of culture, tradition and people’s opinions into account is a recipe for disaster.

Having said all that, the city of Nairobi has shown a lot of good examples of how they’re turning their public spaces from shady and violent corners to vibrant and exciting areas to hang out. The city has committed to improve 60 public spaces over the next few months, which is a great promise for the city and for the people.


3rd Public Spaces Biennale: Highlight of Day 1.


Women and Youth for Inclusive, Safe and Accessible Public Spaces

The main session for us occurred already on day 1. The session debated key issues regarding public space, safety and urban mobility through the gender and youth lenses. The speakers aimed to outline strategies and tools to contribute towards a vision of a gender and age inclusive cities, where women, youth, children and elderly can use and enjoy quality access to public space. The session was well structured to increase awareness on how urban public spaces are planned, implemented and used in order to identify the potential inherent in this space for more inclusive and prosperous cities.

Across the world, public space is becoming an ever more critical issue in light of rapid urbanization. For women, youth and children, public space is particularly valuable for empowerment due to opportunities presented for political, social and cultural participation as well as entrepreneurship. Public space, mobility and safety are key elements to access education, health services, employment and leisure activities. One of the pillars of a truly sustainable urban development is a vision of a gender and age inclusive city where women, youth and children can access, enjoy and contribute to safe, humane and welcoming public space.

The session, kicked off by Dana Podmolikova – UN-Habitat YAB Representative from Europe, who outlined the importance of public spaces for youth. Young people being the largest demographic that actually use public spaces, need safe and accessible space to escape from their often challenging family circumstances. They need appropriate space to meet, interact and socialize with their peers. Public spaces are also fantastic for play, sports, arts and culture, making them great arenas for self-expression. This has also been emphasized by Ms. Rose Muema, the Head City Planner of Nairobi, who shared some of the best practices the Kenyan Capital has to offer.

Gender-sensitive planning in the city of Vienna, presented by Ms. Doris Damyanovic from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, counts as another good example of urban planning project founded on participatory approaches. Space is not neutral. Women do not enjoy the same access to public space as it is often characterized by gender-based violence. Although women have the equal rights to safe urban space and to live without fear, the reality makes it hard to adhere to, explained Ms. Teresa Boccia from the Federico II University in Napoli.

Very interesting session was concluded with questions from the audience. The one-on-one discussions carried on long after the end of the session.


3rd Public Space Biennale kicks off in Rome, Italy!

On Thursday, the third Public Spaces Biennale commenced in the beautiful city of Rome. UN-HABITAT’s team from Programme on Public Spaces organizes several sessions over the three days of the conference. The youth voice is conveyed by the European YAB representative, Dana Podmolikova from Czech Republic.

Over 600 speakers are scheduled to take the floor in one dozens of sessions discussing the importance, design and various implementation strategies for public spaces. With the growing popularity, the Biennale has now international guests, raising the profile and scope of discussions and examples. 20150522_13440620150522_134435 If not in the sessions, participants can wonder around the venue and admire some of the best practices and work that is being done. Very interesting and fascinating examples of participatory community development of public spaces are on display! The exhibition presents them in very creative ways outdoors. 20150521_12432820150522_134349


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Youth as Leaders of Today and Tomorrow

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