Public space and the role of local governments

On 4 April  2016 the UCLG Committee on Strategic Urban Planning together with UN Habitat Nairobi, participated in the Habitat III Thematic Meeting on Public Spaces and held a side event on public spaces and the role of local governments.

The event was an opportunity for local and regional stakeholders to share and discuss the role and vision of local governments around  public spaces. As much as 40- 50 % the space in cities is public space and therefore building awareness among local authorities on the importance of public spaces is a priority. UCLG and UN Habitat are committed supporting each other in this process.

The committee has spent 2 years  profiling the importance of public spaces. As Puvendra Akkiah, co-chair from Durban, mentioned, “Cities make public spaces but public spaces make successful cities” and for this reason local governments are key actors in building the New Urban Agenda.

The co-chair Cézar Busatto, from the City of Porto Alegre, mentioned that “strong urban governance is crucial when we talk about public spaces”. The responsibilities are with  local governments but they lack resources. “Local governments should be empowered in the national sphere” added Cézar Busatto.

There is a long way to go, but cities are moving ahead. Nadime Yaver from the city of Bogota shared her experience of the “The Defence Office for Public Space (Defensoría del Espacio Público)” as a tool for citizens to take back their public space. This experience has been brought to other cities in Colombia.

 “African cities do not integrate public spaces into their urban development strategies yet and this  is a problem” Costly Chanza from Blantyre, Malawi stated. Land use management is fundamental when we talk about public spaces and especially in African cities. We therefore work on local level policies in order to strengthen  capacities of cities to act on land resources. 

Regional governments also safeguard public space,  often not limited to municipal boundaries. This was illustrated by Mr Josep Alay, commissioner from the diputacion Barcelona, with the example of the regeneration of the Llobregat River, representing an important urban-rural linkage.

Communities have to be involved and it is time for cities to be innovative. Fabian Llisteri, part of the International Union of Architects, took up the UCLG message, that the community is the expert. For professional work, community knowledge is inspiring. Local governments are  clients of  professionals as well, and better consideration for  each other, through more transparency, is needed.

Laura Petrella emphasised the importance of documenting and outreaching through learning with and between academics, local governments and communities.

“Public space is a fascinating topic for working in partnership, and the committee has sparked enthusiasm in our organizations to move ahead”, the closing words of Josep Roig UCLG Secretary General. 

UCLG Public Space Think Piece