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public space

How to capture public life in public spaces?

Fen Wei's picture
Photo credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank
Urbanization and economic growth go hand in hand.  Cities are turning into centers of attraction in developing countries and their population is rising constantly. In such cities, we often see in a city a mix of old and new, slow and fast: Street vendors hawking their wares by luxury shopping malls; highways segmentizing parks and walkways; high-rise crowding out traditional neighborhoods, etc. However, we do not often see a well-balanced mix that serves all urban dwellers with a wide array of needs, economically and socially.
What are the ingredients of a good urban life, or rather, what does it take for a city to make the public happy? The answer to this is multifaceted. Cities need to be accessible, vibrant, and create safe public spaces to meet public needs.
As UN-Habitat’s Charter of Public Space states, public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being, the places of a community’s collective life, particularly in situations of poverty and limited public resources, such as those in the developing countries. The Charter also highlights that participation of citizens and in particular of communities of residents is of crucial importance for the maintenance and management of public spaces. While there might be no objection to this statement, it is also true that it has been easily overlooked, especially in developing countries, for the sake of “economic efficiency.”


Fen Wei's picture
Also available in: English
HafenCity, Hamburg. Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
图片来源: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
 “滨水区不只是孤立存在的。它与其他所有的东西相关。” —— 杰出的城市规划师Jane Jacobs说。


[参阅: 城市土地再生:利用私人投资从业者指南]

Transforming urban waterfronts

Fen Wei's picture
Also available in: 中文
HafenCity, Hamburg. Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
HafenCity, Hamburg.
Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
“The waterfront isn’t just something unto itself. It’s connected to everything else,” said Jane Jacobs, a prominent urbanist.
This connection is twofold; it refers to the relationship between cities and their waterfronts – as ever-changing as cities themselves.
Evolving from its past definition during the industrial era as a city’s service yard, the urban waterfront has, in recent decades, taken on new meanings.

On one hand, the waterfront is playing a more significant role in transforming the urban fabric of a city or even reshaping a city’s identity.
On the other hand, successful urban waterfronts have also demonstrated how city resources – such as available land, cleaner water, historic preservation, and urban revitalization – can be unlocked and realized, and how these elements can be integrated into the city and public life.
[Read: Regenerating Urban Land: A Practitioner's Guide to Leveraging Private Investment]

Why enhancing public urban spaces matters for Karachi

Annie Bidgood's picture
Vibrant streets with vendors. Photo: Jon Kher Kaw / World Bank
Public spaces such as streets, open spaces, parks, and public buildings are a big part of cities that are often overlooked. Inadequate, poorly designed, or privatized public spaces often generate exclusion and marginalization and degrades the livability of the urban environment. That is why the importance of public spaces are now embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals.
In dense built-up cities like Karachi, Pakistan, public spaces are even more important. These are areas of respite and recreation from the stress of city life. They are also social and cultural spaces where livelihoods and businesses are conducted, especially for the urban poor. Public open spaces in Karachi have suffered from rapid urban growth: 
  • The total share of green space detectable in satellite imagery has fallen from 4.6% in 2001 to 3.7% in 2013.
  • Large tracts of vacant land in prime areas in the city center are closed off to the public and neglected.
  • Twelve square kilometers of prime waterfront area, often a valuable public asset in other cities, is still mostly undeveloped more than 10 years after the roads were built.
  • Many sidewalks in the main commercial areas and busy corridors are broken down, converted to unregulated parking areas, or used for dumping trash—to the detriment of pedestrian safety and public health.
  • In a focus group, women also remarked on the lack of safe playgrounds or other recreational facilities for children.
Recently the World Bank Group approved a loan for the Karachi Neighborhood Improvement Project (KNIP) to finance improvements in public spaces in the city’s selected neighborhoods and to strengthen the city government’s capacity to provide certain administrative services  such as business registration and construction permits. The investments in safety, walkability and access to public transit nodes are also timely, given the city’s plans to introduce a system of Bus Rapid Transit within the city and in two of the three neighborhoods.

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Here is my colleague, Sohaib Athar talking about #Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project:

Beyond the investments in the physical space and urban design, a key design feature of KNIP is its emphasis on active and sustained engagement with the residents of Karachi. The project aims to use a participatory planning process to identify, prioritize, and design highly impactful enhancements to public areas such as sidewalks, open spaces and green spaces, and public buildings. While the exact nature of investments will be determined through community consultations, they may include safety features for pedestrians and other non-motorized transportation, accessibility and mobility improvements close to commercial areas and planned transit stations, new or upgraded neighborhood parks and playgrounds, infrastructure to foster safe and vibrant street activity (kiosks for vendors, tables and seating, temporary street closures for festivals, etc.), measures to address traffic congestion and parking, and improved municipal services in public areas (street lighting, garbage collection, drainage, etc.).

KNIP is intended to be an entry point to showcase the value of participatory planning and inclusive urban design, as the first step in a longer-term strategy for city transformation and rejuvenation. Building confidence and inclusiveness in city management is critical to ensure the success of deeper institutional reforms and larger infrastructure investment programs down the road. KNIP is expected to help lay the foundation for a multi-year partnership between the World Bank Group and the local and provincial governments focused on inclusivity, livability, and prosperity. To this end, KNIP will also support the creation of a Karachi Transformation Steering Committee (KTSC), comprised of elected officials, government representatives, business leaders, community stakeholders and NGOs representing various public interests. KTSC’s mandate is to develop a shared vision for Karachi’s transformation and a roadmap to achieve that vision in an inclusive way.

Transforming Karachi, Pakistan into a livable and competitive megacity

Jon Kher Kaw's picture
It will take Karachi as much as $10 billion of capital investment over the next decade to close the infrastructure gaps in the city.
On the ground, it is not too difficult to see why this is so. More than 40% of residents rely on public transport, but with 45 residents competing for one bus seat, travel within the city is difficult. Water supply is highly irregular, and rationing is widespread. The availability of water ranges from four hours per day to two hours every other day. Many households rely on private vendors who sell water from tankers at high prices. The sewage network has not been well maintained since the 1960s, and all three existing treatment plants are dysfunctional. Industrial waste, which contains hazardous materials and heavy oils, is dumped directly into the sea untreated. Of the 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste generated each day, 60% never reaches a dumpsite; 80% of medical waste is not disposed of properly.

[Download report: Transforming Karachi into a Livable and Competitive Megacity]
Garbage accumulated on a road median in Karachi. Photo: Annie Bidgood / World Bank

There are otters in the city

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Photo by budak via Flickr CC

When a family of 10 smooth-coated otters appeared in Singapore’s urban downtown of Marina Bay last year, the city was ablaze with excitement and delight. Who would have thought that these otters would make a dense urban environment like Singapore home? After all, otters were thought to have vanished in the 1970s as Singapore rapidly developed into a dense metropolis.
Was this a fad? Probably. Was this a big deal? Absolutely. In a small city-state where land is considered a scarce resource, the tension between urban development and biodiversity conservation can be very pronounced. This was not the case in Singapore. Between 1986 and 2010, as Singapore’s urban population doubled from 2.7 to 5 million, its green cover also increased from 36% to 50%, all within the confines of just 710 square kilometers. The increase in green cover in urbanized Singapore was seen as a sign that the efforts by the urban planning agency, parks and water management boards had paid off, and a testament that the natural environment could be indeed be integrated effectively into the urban fabric of the city.
Today is World Environment Day. This year, it celebrates the theme of “connecting people to nature,” and invites us to think about how we are part of nature—and how intimately we depend on it.

Postcards from Quito on the New Urban Agenda

Sameh Wahba's picture
Also available in: Español

Photos: World Bank

More than two months have passed since the whirlwind that was Habitat III, the UN’s once-every-20-year summit on cities and urban development. From big data to climate change, public spaces to municipal finance, the conference truly seemed to have something for everyone. Long queues to enter the conference aside, what was striking was also the sheer number of young participants at the event, many of whom were students, planners and architects from Quito.

So what did people in Quito really think about the future of cities? We asked visitors to the World Bank’s booth at the Habitat III exhibition to tell us, by writing on postcards, what they thought was needed to create sustainable cities for all. Of the more than 200 postcards received, several recurring themes were clear:

Postcards from Quito on the New Urban Agenda (World Bank Group)