Wasted Space is Wasted Asset of Citizens in the City

What types of public space models and policies promote rights, equity, and inclusion in the city? This question centred discussions amongst hundreds of experts, authorities and academics from around the world at the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Public Spaces held in Barcelona this week.

As one of the last events in a series of thematic meetings to inform The New Urban Agenda, to be launched at the Habitat III Conference, World Vision presented evidence from its Urban Research Initiative demonstrating the role of public space in building urban communities, promoting social cohesion, and creating shared value in the city, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised.

Drawing upon case studies from Kenya, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Honduras, Joyati Das, Senior Director of World Vision’s Urban Programmes, highlighted the capabilities of children and youth to act as knowledge bearers of their city space, identify and design public spaces, and use technology to support meaningful data for policy and planning processes.

“In Surabaya, Indonesia, children and youth used photographs to identify useful and wasted space in their neighbourhoods, capturing areas notorious for criminal activity and hazardous waste dumping. Based on this mapping exercise, children and youth identified several indicators to define a child friendly neighbourhood and city.” 

“These recommendations were presented to city and local authorities, including the city mayor, which supported efforts that led to the local municipality signing a declaration for Surabaya to become a child-friendly city.”

On the topic of cities as centres of sustainable production and fair consumption, World Vision highlighted a case study of a community youth-led waste management co-operative that is driving ethical behaviour from citizens and city authorities in Nairobi, Kenya. 

“Local youth have utilised waste management as a viable, dignified and safe stream of income. They have partnered with the community and city authorities to improve local knowledge of waste management and recycling as well as advocated for policy reform that promotes ethical standards and behaviours such as proper disposal of hazardous industrial waste.”

In the lead up to Habitat III and beyond, World Vision is calling upon local governments to apply a person-centred approach to designing and maintaining public spaces as they are central to building peaceful and democratic societies, and encourage social capital and cohesion building. A city-wide multi-level approach to maintain public spaces is recommended, which requires a joint and collaborative effort by local authorities and communities.

Cities must also adopt an ethical framework to urban development, which promotes responsible citizenry, where the marginalised and vulnerable are included in the wealth creation. This requires local governments to apply an inclusivity principle by recognising the informal sector in its economic development policies and strategies, while also considering environmental sustainability issues.