Nairobi, 11 November 2021 -- If schoolgirls and young women from a neighbourhood in this capital city have their way, several streets in the downtown business districts will be redesigned and adorned with urban orchards, fountains and ponds, free libraries, cycle lanes, interactive pavements, and public seating and toilets.

Using the Block by Block methodology that builds on the Minecraft computer game, 30 students redesigned the car-filled Dunga and Dundori roads by the GoDown Arts Centre with emphasis on climate resiliency, the World Cities Day 2021 theme.

The “Her Streets” project is expected to increase the access and attractiveness of the streets for all Nairobians through the active involvement of girls and stakeholders in the area and is a collaboration between the GoDown Arts Centre, UN-Habitat, Block by Block Foundation and Global Utmaning.

The project is part of UN-Habitat’s Her City initiative which encourages girls and women to lead urban city planning processes to develop safe, inclusive, and accessible public spaces. Since the launch of the Her City toolbox, a number of workshops have been conducted with stakeholders such as the pupils from the nearby Mariakani primary school as well as students from the technical university. 

The students went on exploratory walks through the streets observing the five dimensions of public space: use and users, accessibility, amenities and furniture, comfort and safety, and the green environment. After data gathering, the students used the brainstorming tool MethodKit to identify challenges in the space and create a joint vision forward.

The analysis identified lack of safety in terms of both badly lit streets, unsafe crossings for pedestrians and the total lack of greenery and basic facilities such as toilets, water and shade as primary challenges in the existing design structure. 

On World Cities Day, the students, utilising the user-friendly Minecraft computer game, provided design suggestions, including one that featured a grand entrance from Dunga Road, in the form of a beautiful and playful maze labyrinth of floral bushes that takes you into the GoDown Arts Centre culminating in an indoor cinema. Many of the design suggestions incorporated colorful streets and art elements on streets and walls.

The design suggestions were then presented to a group of city officials, planners, and the ambassador of Sweden to Kenya, Caroline Vicini, as a part of the wider Her City / Her Streets project. Swedish organizations and companies have played an active role in developing the toolbox and it has been financed by Swedish governmental agencies such as Sida and Vinnova.

The ambassador summed up the suggestions by saying, “It shows, we all don’t want these grey, dusty [cities], but we want those that are colorful, green and livable.”

Cecilia Andersson, Acting Chief of UN-Habitat’s Planning, Finance and Economy Section, underlined how the GoDown / Her Streets project is a testimony to the applicability of the Her City toolbox in shaping resilient cities together with local communities.

"It reinforces the fact that girls and young women can use the tool to plan and design with great concern for both people and planet, but it also shows the possibility of combining arts and design to empower young women and girls in low-income countries,” she said.