“Re-Imagining people centered public spaces” Learning Exchange in Durban, South Africa


A learning exchange event on “Re-imagining public spaces” was held from the 4th to 6th of June in Durban, South Africa. The event was jointly hosted by eThewkini – Durban, COGTA (provincial body of the Ministry of Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs), UCLG, UCLG Africa, and UN Habitat

The three day event, which attracted over 200 participants ranging from practitioners, NGOs and councilors, reaffirmed the UCLG agenda on walking that was launched in Rabat during the UCLG Congress. In Rabat, eight mayors, including Mayor Nuxmalo from Durban and Mayor Fortunati from Porto Alegre who co-chairs the committee on Urban Strategic Planning, signed a Walking Charter. The Charter acknowledges the key role that public space plays in enhancing the quality of life in cities.

As well as hearing inspiring inputs from cities and partners, the event dedicated one day to a participatory review of perceptions and ideas about public spaces, thanks to the NGO the Project for Public Spaces, which encourages the development of public spaces around the world for communities by communities.

The participants defined risks, perceptions, comfort, culture, local economy, as well as brainstormed simple ideas to make public spaces better (lighter- better- cheaper-accessible) for specific sites in the city of eThekiwni/Durban. This methodology and its findings will be used by several African Committee members, who admitted to having struggled with public space policies.

Finally, a lively panel discussion on the concept of public space, safer cities and issues relating to governance and policy making helped to shape a way forward for evaluating policies, documenting case studies and enriching the debate towards Habitat III. UN Habitat presented a draft Public Space toolkit and invited the Committee and its members to nurture its development.

In Africa, public space centered urban development is a quite new concept and requires local planning, environment, social culture, technical, education, community involvement and infrastructure departments to work together. It is about shifting the strategy and centering priorities on people’s needs and, in particular, on the ideas of communities.  Mr. Doung Jhangeer from the NGO  DALA in South Africa discussed the pending agenda and strategies to finally overcome legacy of apartheid in imagining and planning cities. 

The public space topic is powerful and crosscutting between UCLG Committees. Public space is not only a land use application, but requires practical policies to be shaped around social and digital inclusion, local economic development, culture, new financing and management practices. We look forward to dedicating a discussion with our members on the 17th of June (Executive Bureau in Liverpool) to policies and experiences of public space.

For more information please visit: Municipal Institute of Learning (MILE) website