Inclusive Public Spaces in Cities

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As urban areas around the world grow, so does the importance of public spaces in cities. Guest blogger Allan K Muleya tells us why and how to make them inclusive for all people to enjoy, using the example of Zimbabwe.

Inclusiveness refers to the incorporation of gender, age, socio-economic and political concerns in the planning and management of public spaces. The current situation within public spaces in Zimbabwe reflects a lack of inclusivity, a situation that is mirrored all over the world. A critical examination of Africa Unity Square and Harare Gardens in the City of Harare reveals what the local authorities neglect in relation to the management of public spaces.

For example, it is evident that street furniture within public spaces does not cater to the elderly, disabled, or children and women. The lack of lighting excludes women from using public spaces during the night and a lack of seating makes it difficult for the elderly who cannot sit on the ground to enjoy public spaces such as parks.

Public spaces are a crucial feature of the urban landscape and should be well taken care of by local authorities. I view public spaces as places where spontaneous activities are supposed to happen, where socialising is rife and people can generally relax during lunch breaks to become more productive in their work.

Neglecting public spaces has a negative economic and social multiplier effect in the long run. Hence, a lot has to be done by local authorities within cities to encourage inclusivity in public spaces.

Urban life is only fulfilling when each and every individual does not feel left out, especially in the public domain of life. Urban public spaces have the effect of making city dwellers experience that sense of place. Ultimately, cities are much more than places of living and conducting commercial activities, meaning cities can cease to be somewhat depressing, if the effort is put into it.

Public spaces can even be utilised effectively in an orderly manner by young people and the population in general to promote income-generating projects, such as street shows and vending stalls. All this is possible only if local authorities are willing and able to plan and manage public spaces.

Harare Gardens

The point of this article is to address how local authorities, especially in the developing world, can tackle the issue of inclusivity within public spaces. Most local authorities in Zimbabwe and other developing nations are engulfed in financial difficulties – this translates into a lack of capacity to manage the urban landscape and plan for it accordingly.

I recommend an important solution to the neglect of public spaces in most cities: local authorities should find creative ways of financing the construction of infrastructure within urban public spaces. They should embrace Public Private Partnerships. They should contact various non-governmental organisations with whom to partner so that funding can be sufficient to successfully revitalise dilapidated infrastructure.

Inclusive public spaces are crucial for the growth of an urban settlement by providing a place where social networks are built and strengthened and social capital accumulates. In the long-run, cities will ultimately flourish.

Submitted by Allan K Muleya, a 23 year-old passionate about volunteering who recently completed his studies towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Rural and Urban Planning at the University of Zimbabwe. Allan is interested in sustainable urban design, youth empowerment and civil society engagement in governance issues.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments on these blogs are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Peace Child International.

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