Public Space as a catalyst for local economic development

Public space plays a fundamental role in structuring cities, providing opportunities for social development, acting as a catalyst for social cohesion, promoting cleaner, green cities and, as discussed in the 3rd World Forum of LED in Turin, in local economic development (LED). The UCLG Committee on Urban Strategic Planning, together with its Global Partners UN-Habitat and the ILO, hosted an interactive and informative session on the role that public space can play in generating local economic development opportunities.

The panellists pictured above provided inputs that can assist UCLG and its partners to develop a Public Space Policy Framework for Local Governments. Mr Nelson Yovany, Director of Public Space in the City of Bogota led the panel discussion and provided the participants with an urban perspective of the importance of public space. Besides being a structuring element for the city, public space can also be used as an important means to generate employment, revenue and local economic development. “Cities need to capitalize on the implementation of public space. In the City of Bogota, 1% of public space development generates 8 million dollars in revenue,” said Mr Yovany. Representing UN-Habitat, Mr Marco Kamiya also alluded to the impact that public space has on the revenue generation of the city, echoing the sentiments of “the economic value of public space” for cities.

Examples from the cities of Hyderabad, Bogota, Durban and Turin were used to highlight the fact that there are “many people whose livelihoods depend on public space.” A key question that arose from Prof. Alison Brown of WEIGO is: How can local government, as an institution, create an enabling environment for LED opportunities, not only in public space, but in the city as a whole?

Representatives from regional governments, Mr Jose Santos from the Province of Huelva and Mr Paul Carrasco, Prefect of Azuay outlined the role that regional governments play in the development of public space. Creating opportunities for cultural activities to protection and maintenance public space through the regulation of licenses, everyone has a role to play in its development.

Edmundo Werna from the ILO stressed the importance of people who work in public space and depend upon it as a source of income. His reflection provided an overview of the role of markets.

The session moderated by the Technical Chair of the USP, Mr Puvendra Akkiah, it was noted that most citizens “do not view public space as a basic service.” The panellists were asked to provide inputs they would like to see in a Public Space policy and were received as follows:

  • Protection of public space, as many peoples livelihood depend on it;
  • Active public participation is key to the development of the policy;
  • How cities can continuously produce more people-centred public space with limited resources;
  • How cities deal with the legal rights to public space from a land tenure perspective;
  • How can people access public space as a strategy to support livelihoods and the support that local governments can give to enable this access;
  • How cities can capitalise on the implementation of public space as a generator of revenue.

Participants agreed that access to public space and LED opportunities is about dignity. If one looks at the SDGs, the same common thread exists; it is about leaving no one behind by ensuring a quality living environment.