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Placemaking Week Panel: Making Cities Together in Africa’s Exploding Metropolises

During International Placemaking Week 2017 in October in Amsterdam, Placemakers organized a panel discussion on placemaking in fast-growing African cities. The session was targeted at strengthening the global placemaking movement, sharing lessons, innovations, experiences, successes and challenges from working in fast-growing cities of the African continent. What is the state of public space and placemaking in such a context, how may placemaking be integrated in formal urban planning policies, and what is the role of various public, private and civic stakeholders in this process?

Under moderation of Bert Smolders (Arcadis), panelists Cecilia Andersson (UN-Habitat), Simone Rots (International New Town Institute) and Mark Ojal (Placemakers) shared their experiences and knowledge about the Sub-Saharan Africa context and made contributions on emerging topics and agendas on public space, placemaking and quality of life in this part of the world.

As a partner in the United Nations Human Settlement Program and working on the Global Public Space Programme, Cecilia Andersson discusses urbanization challenges in fast growing metropolises like low density urban growth, lack of basic services, infrastructure and streets and pressing inequality issues . Cecilia points out that at the same time, public space has gained an important role in the international agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals laid out in Quito 2016 include the following target: “By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”  Moreover, UN-Habitat promotes considering the human scale as measures that allow for the best possible commercial use of street-level floors, fostering local markets and commerce, both formal and informal, as well as not-for-profit community initiatives.

Simone Rots, director of the International New Town Institute – a Think and Do Tank and Knowledge exchange Platform – organized New Town Labs in Capetown, South Africa, Tema, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya for different stakeholders in urban development. Simone stresses a flexible and progressive approach to New Town Planning in African cities. The population growth and urbanization challenge simply demand for the development of New Towns, in which placemaking can play an important role for rooting new developments in local culture, using public space programming as a means to prototype developments and build up community ownership and cohesion. One of the examples is INTI’s project in Tatu City, where private developers are putting public space on the top of their agenda.

Mark Ojal (Placemakers) explained ‘Making Cities Together’: a project that promotes exchange of knowledge, ideas, best practices and experiences among various actors in the field of placemaking  and participatory urban development in Dandora, Nairobi – Kenya. The project aims to heighten awareness, stimulate dialogue and debate by presenting concrete models and a real implementation of co-designing a street – both physical and social/programmatic – that demonstrates the role of local ownership, placemaking and high quality public spaces in urban development. MCT has been implementing a “model street”in Dandora  to serve as a benchmark to guide future interventions.

The model street project underlines Simones statement as an exemplar of how placemaking can catalyse unlikely alliances among grassroots groups, the private sector, local government and other placemaking leaders to adapt, replicate and up-scale good practices from street to neighbourhood level, and trigger an avalanche of community empowerment initiatives by various stakeholders. The model street is an accelerator for positive transformation, and serves as an incremental process for community-led neighbourhood regeneration.

After these lessons and best practices the status of public space in African cities was further discussed between the panel and the audience: is there a role for placemaking in formal urban planning? What are stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, from government to private sector and international organizations? An engaging debate emerged on unlikely alliances catalyzed by placemaking and the ripple effect caused by making cities together. Audience members brought in discussion points such as how placemaking would require a multi-departmental approach, the search for funding opportunities and the need for placemaking capacity building programmes. The discussion ended with some final recommendations of the panel with the main agreement that we should create awareness on the need and importance of public space in Africa’s exploding metropolises, where exclusion and inequality are always on the watch, for example by connecting public space and placemaking to other normative programs of local governments and cities or real estate developers. We were very glad to be part of the International Placemaking week organized by PPS, Stipo, Placemaking Plus, the Municipality of Amsterdam and Pakhuis de Zwijger. The panel discussion inspired us to integrate lessons from fast growing African cities in the placemaking movement! A big thank you to the wonderful panelists and moderator.

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