At one point, it was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. From 1990 to 1993, more than 6,000 people were murdered annually. Drive-by shootings were regular and indiscriminate, stemming from warfare between gang lords, drug criminals, and para-military groups. The need for change was urgent and led to radical urban experimentation.
The city’s political and business leaders recognized that Medellín’s security issues could not be dealt with through policy measures alone. They initiated a series of radical programs to reshape the social fabric of the city’s neighborhoods and to mobilize the poor.
City planners began addressing the problem of endemic violence and inequity through the design of public spaces, transit infrastructure and urban interventions into marginalized neighborhoods. Key to their approach was a commitment to making the public realm a truly shared space, and a faith that they could transform Medellín’s public spaces from sites of segregation and warfare into spaces where communities would come together.
A stage is now ready for public urban spaces.
For instance, UN Women launched the Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces report, which enhanced public spaces designs with better lighting and CCTVs to prevent and respond to sexual violence against women. There are more onboard, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on sustainable forestry and the World Health Organization (WHO) on green spaces and health. The World Bank has also committed to enhancing public spaces across cities including Karachi, Chongqing, and Dhaka.
To realize these collective efforts, better measurement tools are vital to follow up with evidence-based approaches. On July 11th, 2018, UN-HABITAT and ISOCARP held a side event during the High-Level Political Forum at the UN, titled “Quantifying the Commons.” While speakers from various organizations including the World Bank presented their works, three key questions were raised regarding our future steps:
Public spaces have been a place of social interaction from the very early beginnings of the human civilization. Taksim Square in Istanbul, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Maidan Square in Kiev, Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires are among just a few common places around the world that have witnessed the most iconic events of the recent history.
If public spaces are so important to everyday life of citizens, whose responsibility is it to create and maintain them? Should citizens have a say in how they are designed?
UN-Habitat, a United Nations programme working towards a better urban future, partnered up with Mojang, a Swedish video game developer, and Microsoft to involve people— especially youth, women and slum dwellers— in urban design by using the videogame Minecraft. The innovative partnership, known as Block by Block, was set up in 2012 to support the UN-Habitat’s work with public spaces. Take a look at the video below to learn more about this innovative approach.
Fortaleza is a coastal city of 2.6 million in the northeast of Brazil. Its sprawling growth has now given way to stark inequality and major spatial divides. Lack of investment and inadequate planning have also led to environmental degradation.
In an effort to address these challenges, the municipality has partnered with the World Bank through the Fortaleza Sustainable Urban Development Project to improve public spaces and rehabilitate areas of the Vertente Marítima Basin and of the Rachel de Queiroz Park. In January 2017, the project was recognized by UN Habitat for innovative practices for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Project Lead Emanuela Monteiro discuss the initiative and how it aims to make the city more livable, competitive, and resilient.
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New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
Digital technologies have been lauded for their ability to set aside social and geographic boundaries, allowing people to communicate with others from different backgrounds in different parts of the world. They are also known for their capacity to collect and track data on end users that can be used in the aggregate to inform decision-making. This level of engagement and data analysis led some to wonder if digital technologies would democratize communication and service delivery between governments and their citizens. Civic leaders, the argument followed, who embrace new technologies could benefit from deeper community engagement and increased stakeholder awareness on government initiatives and would be equipped with a steady flow of constituent feedback and a transparent track record. Communities would be rewarded with insights into the functioning of new systems and the demand for city services as well as means to report inconsistencies or problems.
While the dream of proper two-way communication and digital feedback loops has not been realized by most cities, citizens would appreciate direct, real-time interaction with their local governments. While less than one-third of citizens (32%) are currently providing feedback to their local authorities, over one-half say they would like to do so. A large number of citizens (51%) want wider access to digital platforms to enable them to communicate with government or expansion of free wifi in public spaces (50%), perhaps signaling that basics, like access to the Internet and digital literacy skills, may have the greatest impact on citizens’ ability to interact. Many citizens— in both developed and developing countries— still lack broadband access at home and have limited data to use on smartphones. This means that as governments attempt to interact on digital platforms and share information online, they also need to be mindful of the digital divide within communities.
The global conversation about urban sustainability focuses primarily on the big picture: how to reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption of cities? How can we provide the infrastructure and services necessary to meet the needs of a soaring urban population? How can cities create enough jobs for everyone?
These issues are critically important, no doubt. But what about the city itself as a physical space? What should a sustainable city "look like"? Are there any big design principles that all successful urban planners should follow?
Because urbanization is often a chaotic process, many countries feel like they don't have the time or resources to address those questions. Yet evidence has shown that considerations about urban form and design are anything but cosmetic: creating vibrant public spaces within a city, for instance, can boost competitiveness, improve health outcomes, and strengthen social cohesion.
In this video, Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Jon Kher Kaw delve deeper into the linkages between urban spaces and sustainability, and describe the many benefits that come with a well-designed city.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
If history is any guide, this growth in urban population will provide tremendous opportunities for increasing prosperity and livability. One can look at the successes of a few Asian cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore to demonstrate how, with the assistance of good policies, urbanization and economic development go hand-in-hand. More generally, no major country has ever reached middle-income status without also experiencing substantial urbanization.
Yet cities can grow in different ways that will affect their competitiveness, livability, and sustainability. The more successful cities of Asia have been effective at creating opportunities, increasing productivity, fostering innovation, providing efficient and affordable services for residents, and enhancing public spaces to create vibrant and attractive places to live. But many, many, more cities have neglected fundamental investments in critical infrastructure and basic services, and have mismanaged land, environmental and social policies. This has resulted in traffic congestion, sprawl, slums, pollution, and crime.
Among the many complexities of urban development that have contributed to success, two critical factors stand out – investing in strategic urban planning, and in good urban governance.
- livable cities
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- metropolitan planning
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I’m not an urban planner nor an architect. I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist either. But based on my personal experience, I can tell why public spaces are important in people’s lives. Just close your eyes for a second and think about your favorite public space. What do you like to do over there most? Why do you think you love it there?
I like them because they provide green breather spaces in the city and provide a place for recreation, enjoyment and a sense of belonging.
However, after hearing from many prominent urban development experts at a recent World Bank-led “Urbanscapes Symposium”, I quickly realized that public spaces are more than this. It was striking to me to see and learn that, for others, public spaces are places where livelihoods are conducted and are essential spaces for social interaction, especially for the poor.
In that respect, providing people with new public spaces, where they can feel invited, welcome and safe, can encourage them to spend more time outside and foster interaction among lower income communities.
It should come as no surprise, then, that planning standards recommend devoting 15-20 % of land in cities to public open space… Yet most cities are falling short of that goal: in the United States, for instance, 75% of the 100 largest cities do not meet that requirement.
So how can we work with cities to help them create a better urban environment and leverage the potential of public spaces?
We have all come across people whose homes have beautiful and always blooming plants and flowers – people with a so-called “green thumb”.
But did you know that cities too can have a “green thumb”? Singapore is certainly one of those cities.
Also known as the "garden city”, Singapore is set to become a "city in a garden”. The abundance of greenery is a striking feature, with parks, green roofs, street side plants, and trees on every corner.
But greenery is not there just to please the eye and create livable public areas — it also helps mitigate the risk of flooding.
Singapore, like many other densely-populated cities, is at risk of flooding. One way to tackle this is by greening public spaces and encouraging private development to follow the principles of the government’s flagship “ABC” program, which looks to make water “Active, Beautiful and Clean”. Carefully planned and implemented, investments in so-called “green infrastructure” are paying off: they make the city more resilient and more sustainable in the long-term, and also create more spaces for people to meet and interact.
Although Singapore’s dedication to greening public spaces is remarkable, it is not the only city that is getting its hands “dirty” to promote natural ecosystems. The Netherlands has been promoting green approaches in urban planning for many years now, with the innovative redesign of sewer systems, or the creation of multi-functional “water squares” which can hold storm water when rain is heavy while otherwise serving as a social space.