Searching for the promised land of Public Space: The key to an equitable African city

Searching for the promised land of Public Space: The key to an equitable African city

The UCLG Committee on Urban Strategic Planning has just published a peer learning booklet titled: Searching for the promised land of Public Space: The key to an equitable African city, conducted in partnership with UN-Habitat, UCLG Africa, CoGTA and the Municipality of eThekwini (Durban). The aim of this publication is to demonstrate the need for learning exchanges between municipal, regional and international practitioners, in order to drive the debate on rethinking and reimagining public spaces.


The publication captures the main highlights, conclusions and learning outcomes of the event ‘Reimagining Public Spaces’ that was held from 4th-6th June 2014 in Durban-eThekwini, South Africa. The learning exchange was coordinated by the UCLG Committee on Strategic Urban Planning, under the firm belief that public space policies can be a means to both reshape cities and to improve quality of life, in the search for a better future.

The three-day event attracted over 200 participants including practitioners, NGOs and councillors. The commitment of the city’s politicians, officials and partners was outstanding, and the learning exchange was a milestone for the UCLG South-South exchange, widening recognition of the issue of public space and enabling the city to enter into a new era of commitment.

The complexity of the urbanized world demands the continuous search for the conditions to build a better future for all. As we move forward, it becomes apparent that the well-being of citizens, including vulnerable groups, is influenced by their immediate environment. Public spaces, in particular, have a direct impact on the life of the people. Therefore, the right to well-designed public space is an essential dimension of the ‘Right to the city’. Local governments are firmly committed to achieving equity through public space.

In the case of Africa, cities are growing fast and equal opportunities for its citizens are within reach. The historical background of most African cities is similar in that, during colonial times, urban areas were primarily reserved for white ruling minorities, creating a segregated urban fabric where social differences were striking. Therefore, today, African city leaders and practitioners are seeking to answer the question of how to generate equitable cities and how to deal with this colonial urban heritage; one approach being through the use of public space.

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