Launched in 2012, UN-Habitat’s Global Public Space Programme supports cities to take actions for safe, inclusive, and accessible public space for all. As a Programme, we promote the crucial role of green and quality public spaces in cities, acting as an enabler for social justice, prosperity, and environmental change. Streets, sidewalks and cycling lanes, squares, parks and waterfronts, gardens and community courtyards, are all part of what we define as public space. Trends of rapid urbanization are constantly increasing, and public spaces are too often sacrificed on account of uncontrolled urban development. We support national and local governments, private sector, and civil society to implement policies and strategies to protect and regenerate the public realm for a sustainable future.
The Global Public Space Programme adopts an integrated and iterative approach for sustainable public space development and management. Starting from city-wide and site-specific public space assessments, we promote evidence-based strategies and national policies for a more connected network of public spaces. We use innovative methodologies such as Minecraft to co-design space with communities, boosting public participation in urban planning and design processes. We encourage co-governance and co-management of public space to secure longevity of projects and community empowerment. So far, we have completed 137 public space upgrading projects in 90 different cities, impacting the life of over 2.3 million people.
2021 has been a crucial year to rediscover the value of public spaces. Countries and cities have mobilised funding and have actioned recovery plans to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Great effort has been put in developing new means of communication and interaction. However, new variants of the COVID-19 virus have emerged throughout the year, keeping public life in constant stand-by. The pandemic has exhausted several small businesses, which could not manage to recover between one wave and the other. The cultural industry is reinventing its business model, while coping with one of the biggest crises of the sector.
This year, more than ever, we have seen a great interest from cities in how to keep the momentum of participation going. We received several requests for trainings and workshops on urban participation and inclusion worldwide. Capacity building and development of normative products is at the core of the UN-Habitat mandate, and this year our efforts were addressed to deliver training packages and innovate our methodologies. While dealing with the crisis, we adopted an integrated approach to not forget cross-cutting challenges that are still threatening our cities and communities, such as gender inequality and climate change, which have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
Public space has proved to improve the well-being and health of our communities, while boosting social interaction and livelihoods. Leveraging the renovated interest of countries and cities, we believe that COVID-19 could be a great opportunity for cities to redefine their agendas and develop a new strategic framework, putting public spaces as a key driver of change.