11 Steps to Achieve Quality Public Spaces at a Neighborhood Level: UN-Habitat’s Guideline
The Un-Habitat or the United Nations agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development, whose primary focus is to deal with the challenges of rapid urbanization, has been developing innovative approaches in the urban design field, centered on the active participation of the community. ArchDaily has teamed up with UN-Habitat to bring you weekly news, article, and interviews that highlight this work, with content straight from the source, developed by our editors.
“People all over the world are increasingly demanding a say in the way that their cities are planned and designed”.For our third collaboration, discover UN-HABITAT’s guideline on achieving quality public spaces, a site-specific assessment consisting of a series of activities and tools that help understand the quality of the selected area and plan future design and planning solutions on the site through participatory approaches. Focusing on open public space, within a five minutes walking distance, the guide helps users gather and analyze information, creating a logical transition from needs to design.
The Global Public Space Program, launched by UN-Habitat in 2012, aims to promote public spaces or “places that are publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all for free and without a profit motive”, to ensure a sustainable living for all. Throughout the years, drawing upon the experiences in 75 cities, this program developed “an iterative approach to public space” resulting in the creation of the Public Space Site-specific Assessment, a tool to help achieve the five dimensions of good quality public space: safety, inclusivity, connectivity, accessibility, and sustainability.
Shortening the gap between needs and design, this guideline is based on the active participation of community members, technical experts, and the local authorities in each of the listed activities. While it is often considered costly and time consuming for a city to dispatch staff to do surveys, the Assessment offers a range of activities that are affordable and cost-effective.
Creating and promoting streets and public spaces, especially for the most vulnerable, the Public Space Site-specific Assessment “goes through four phases and guides the user to measure the quality of public spaces by assessing five dimensions and 20 indicators”. In fact, these indicators can be prioritized depending on the local context, and tailored to the objective of the assessment (improving current conditions or creating a new space). A valuable resource to assess and plan, observable and measurable indicators are classified into five key dimensions that guide the user on how to turn selected sites into more safe, inclusive, accessible, and green public spaces. Read on to discover the four phases: Pre-assessment, Data gathering, Analysis, Impact and evaluation, and their different activities.
The pre-assessment exercise provides the user with the initial information to get started as an overview of the context as well as information about the demography, history, culture, infrastructure, and the social dynamics of the study area.
- Project preparation: Organize and prepare the project timeline by mapping key stakeholders and identifying a participation strategy. Understand the city’s priorities, available time, budget, and the local capacities in place.
- Desk Research: Capture general information, existing studies and highlighting missing or outdated data
This exercise is structured in a way to get the most information about the five dimensions of good quality public space. While some tools are digital, others adopt traditional approaches that facilitate the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. In this phase, the level of civic engagement is the highest which gives the community an opportunity to be part of the assessment while also expressing their spatial perception and needs.
- Observation: Analyze daily life and get an understanding of users’ activities and behavior. Make sure to capture insights as well as data concerning what is happening in the site and around it.
- Digital survey: Get statistical information from and by the community about their perception and opinion of the public space and its walkable radius.
- Interviews: Gather data about specific aspects of the site that require specific expertise or knowledge from selected people.
- Exploratory walks: Experience public space through the eyes of daily users by walking and exploring the neighborhood together.
- Focus group discussion: Gather people’s opinions and ideas on how they perceive the public space and collaboratively map challenges and opportunities.
During the third phase, the collected data is cleaned and analyzed to highlight the main issues related to public space and its walkable radius. The technical team maps the findings and underlines the main challenges and opportunities of each dimension. In this phase, UN-Habitat introduces two participatory design activities —The Block by Block methodology, using the video-game Minecraft to co-design the public space with and by the community in a 3D model, and the Expert Design Studio — to ensure community’s needs are incorporated into the final proposal.
- Findings maps: Curate gathered data and interpret them into five spatial maps that highlight the key findings of each of the five dimensions.
- Quality scoring: Evaluate the quality of the public space by scoring the five dimensions and their indicators.
- Recommendations: Produce a suitability map and come up with a list of recommendations and actions to upgrade the public space and its walkable radius.
Impact and evaluation
This phase proposes to evaluate the public space after implementation to understand its impact on the neighborhood. It is important to revisit the site one year after construction and evaluate whether the public space met its ultimate goals and objectives.
- Comparative findings: Measure impact and re-assess the quality of the public space one year after its implementation. Refine, scale-up, and extract lessons learned.
Info Via UN-Habitat.