Beit Lahia, Gaza Strip, 15 January 2018 –  UN-Habitat in partnership with UN Women, Palestinian Housing Council, Aisha Association for Woman and child protection, and GGateway are creating a safe and inclusive public space in Al-Shaima’ neighbourhood in Beit Lahia city in order to improve the urban environment and the living conditions of residents, in particular children and youth.

The initiative is pioneering the use of the popular Minecraft video game as a tool to engage the community in the design process of the public space in Gaza Strip, and builds on UN-Habitat’s previous public space interventions in Palestine (in Sur Baher and Wadi Al Joz in East Jerusalem and in El Shoka in Gaza Strip).

Around 35 community members, mainly youth and women, participated in the 3-day workshop that included discussions on the criteria for good public space design, the importance of community participation, and how to use Minecraft as a tool for engaging the community in the design process. The participants were divided into groups and built their visions of the public space within the virtual environment of Minecraft.

Increased sense of ownership

The importance of utilizing Minecraft rests on its ability to engage community members, especially youth from both genders, in a highly visual and intuitive manner that allows the expression of their needs and opinions and build their sense of ownership to the developed public space. Minecraft is a critical tool for democratizing public space and broader spatial planning processes in a cost-effective and highly interactive manner.

On the last day, the participants presented their designs and a group discussion was held to agree on the proposed facilities and services. Afterwards, a chart that combines the agreed upon ideas was developed which will be the base that the landscape architect will build the final public space design upon.

“We thank the project’s team and the donor for giving us the opportunity to participate in developing our neighbourhood utilizing innovative digital tools, we look forward to seeing our designs and imaginations implemented on the ground” said Waseem, one of the participants.

This initiative is implemented under the “Utilizing digital tools to promote human rights and create Inclusive public spaces in Gaza Strip” project, which is funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium. In the last day of the workshop, representatives from Consulate General of Belgium in Jerusalem joined the project’s team to attend the final presentations of the participants.

“The Belgian Government decided to fund this project to enable the marginalized groups in Gaza Strip, specially youth and women, to participate in an effective decision-making process and to have their voices heard” said Eric De Muynck, Head of Belgian Cooperation. “the most important thing is that the participants’ visions will be implemented on the ground and we will keep pushing to ensure that community needs are considered”, he added.

“I’m impressed by the commitment and active participation of the participants that produced interesting designs, where the final public space design will be built upon” said Zeyad Elshakra, Head of UN-Habitat Office in the State of Palestine. “It is extremely essential to invest in the community empowerment and capacity building to enhance the socio-economic situation in Gaza Strip”, he added.