Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, 4 July 2018 – UN-Habitat and its partners recently held a three day workshop engaging youth and women aimed at improving the urban environment and the living conditions of the residents.

Participating partners included UN Women, Palestinian Housing Council, Aisha Association for Woman and child protection, and Gateway and was part of an initiative to engage youth and women in an effective decision-making process through creating a safe and inclusive public space in Al-Farouq neighborhood in Al-Zawayda town (middle of Gaza Strip).

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 spaces in Gaza Strip, and builds on UN-Habitat’s previous public space interventions in Palestine (Sur Baher and Wadi Al Joz in East Jerusalem, and El-Shoka and Beit Lahia in Gaza Strip).

About 42 community members participated in the workshop that started with an introduction on the benefits of public spaces, criteria for good public space design, and the importance of community participation. Afterwards, the participants were engaged in a fruitful discussion with the municipality representatives and the project team, where they expressed their needs and concerns, and explored the possibilities on how to maximize the opportunities in the site and ensure that the users are safe and comfortable, in particular women and girls. Before starting the design process, the participants were introduced on how to use Minecraft as a tool for engaging the community in the design process. Afterwards, the participants were divided into 11 groups to build their visions and design of their 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 between the participants, municipality representatives and the project team was held to prioritize the proposed facilities and services and to agree on the main elements of the public space. 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.

“It was totally a new and productive experience as we got the chance to work hand by hand with the municipality to design a public space that is urgently needed in our town, specially under the extremely difficult circumstances we live in Gaza Strip” Said Tasneem, one of the participants. “Our participation enhanced the sense of responsibility towards the public spaces in our town and we look forward to participate in the implementation process as well”, she added.

“The active participation of youth and women in the three successful design workshops, held in three different localities in Gaza Strip over the past year, is a great evidence that the community members are willing to participate in developing their built environment whenever they get the chance to do so” said Zeyad Elshakra, Head of UN-Habitat Office in the State of Palestine. “UN-Habitat will continue to focus on strengthening the capacity of women and youth and on developing their skills to effectively participate in the decision-making process by utilizing innovative tools and approaches”, he added.

This initiative is implemented under the “Utilizing digital tools to promote human rights and create Inclusive public spaces in Gaza Strip” project, with funding from the Government of the Kingdom of Belgium.