African Urbanism is not only an online blog to document the community role in development. African Urbanism: Community Initiative is an “offline” project to directly engage communities in improving their social spaces.

Theoretical Framework
Public spaces are our focus points for development. Public spaces, including formal spaces like public parks and informal spaces like community social spaces, represent a most valuable shared resource (tangible and intangible) for communities. Unlike in the cases of transport, housing, sanitation, water or health, community social spaces are community-created spaces that are geographically situated within their own locus of control. Community social spaces are informal public spaces created by communities, for communities. Working with communities to improve, manage and formalize these spaces empowers citizens to take direct control over their immediate environment, and it can serve as a first step in pushing for more citizen engagement in the planning process.

Our Contribution: Improving Public Spaces
Improving public spaces in the city requires operating on two levels: Addressing accessibility and patronage in existing parks, and investing in smaller-sized, social spaces that are more proximal to communities and in line with the workings of how they already engage with their space. Community social spaces play an integral social and economic role in creating a strong sense of “community.” However, it is evident that governance as it is structured today in Accra is not set up to create, contribute to and manage placemaking and vibrant public parks and community spaces within the city.

>>  Bottom-up planning and local management is crucial to the management of community social spaces. The management of community social spaces must be locally focused through a community steward, leader, or community-based organization with a vested interest in the effective management and life of that space. This is key to sustainability: The people who use the space on an everyday basis must have a strong say and role in its management for long-term sustainability.

>>  Increased citizen-level engagement in the management of public spaces and community social spaces is also essential. It is not just in the case of public spaces that there exists a disconnect between government/governance and citizens/the governed. The result is a wide gap between the way the city is planned (top-down) and the way citizens exist and create in their immediate environment (bottom-up). As reflected in a central recommendation from the Project for Public Spaces’ report Placemaking and the Future of Cities (2012): “If the ultimate goal of governance, urban institutions, and development is to make places, communities, and regions more prosperous, civilized, and attractive for all people, then government processes need to change to reflect that goal.” There is need for government to include bottom-up, rather than simply top-down planning to ensure the effective use of city space.

Investing in community spaces does not take away from the need to push the public to demand their rights to patronize the city’s public parks as well. Community residents deserve access these spaces. This is a fundamental shift from how public parks (like Efua Sutherland Children’s Park in Accra, for example) are governed. We will use this opportunity to engage stakeholders to open up access to existing parks and to recognize and include citizens in the management of identified community spaces. Small open spaces like spaces between buildings, alleyways, street corners and bus stops hold immense potential for a combination of formal and informal placemaking.

Community Projects
Jamestown, Accra, Ghana: “Transforming Car Spaces into People’s Spaces” 

Goethe Institut Accra, Photography Workshop: City Representations and Public Life

Further Reading

Mean, Melissa and Tims, Charlie. People make places: Growing the public life of cities. Demos.

Mmofra Foundation (2014). “Playtime in Africa Initiative.” 

Okoye, Victoria (2014). “Re-imagining the public’s space: Incorporating the dynamism of social spaces into public space planning in Accra, Ghana.” World Town Planning Day presentation and paper.

Project for Public Spaces (2012). Placemaking and the Future of Cities.

Simone, AbdouMaliq. (2010). City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: movements at the crossroads. New York NY: Routledge.

Warpole, Ken and Knox, Katherine. The social life of public spaces. Joseph Rowntree Foundation.