Public Spaces Provide Path to Improving Life in Global Slums

The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), who have been working with UN-HABITAT on sustainable urbanization, describe why establishing public spaces can be even more important to improving the world's slums than providing power or clean water.

When working to improve conditions in the world's informal settlements, the challenges are so extensive and numerous, it's often difficult to know where to start. It turns out that place-making is an effective way to tackle multiple problems at once, as PPS illustrates in a new article explaining the culmination of a decades-long shift in thinking among those developing strategies for sustainable urbanization. 

"While perhaps counter-intuitive at first, considering that many developing-world slums lack basic necessities like clean water, electricity, and health care, it turns out that great public spaces are even more important to places like Nairobi's Kibera and Mumbai's Dharavi, because they allow many issues to be addressed at once. 'You have to get people to understand that, when they are planning a city, they have to think multi-sectorial,' says Thomas Melin, a Head of Habitat's Office of External Relations. 'If you go into a slum area and you try to sort out only one thing–the power, the water, etc–it will not help! It might even make things worse. You have to sort out several basic things in order to get neighborhoods to work.'"

"'People in Kibera use public spaces very differently from how they might in, say, New York City,' notes PPS's Cynthia Nikitin, who led a series of Placemaking workshops in one of Africa's largest slums this past spring through our partnership with UN-Habitat. 'In New York, ‘public space' translates to a park, or a plaza. In Kibera, the streets are truly the public spaces, and people are out all day, every day: selling, begging, trading. People make their living–they live their lives–right out in the streets. Having safe and adequate places for that activity is as vital in these areas as water or electricity.'"

Full Story: From Government to Governance: Sustainable Urban Development & the World Urban Forum

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