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“Productive Public Space”: Community-driven design solutions for peace, planet and prosperity

We think public space is a vital development strategy in vulnerable communities. And we're developing a tool that shows you how to do it.

Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

With 1 in 8 people around the world living in one and counting, slums are a growing crisis. Kibera, Nairobi is an infamous example: a nexus of risks such as political tension, severe flooding and unemployment. Residents often inhabit “illegal” land and struggle to make their voices heard, trapping them in complex cycles of vulnerability. Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) has partnered with Kibera residents since 2006 to address these issues through one solution: Productive Public Space. Co-designed by residents, a Productive Public Space (PPS) is a waste space turned into a community asset, integrating physical improvements with resident-managed economic and social programs. Our network of eight PPS’s in Kibera has built community capacity and resilience while improving the environment at the watershed scale. Residents at our first PPS, for example, use the community hall to gather and organize, and rent it out to a school and a church. The roof captures rainwater to be sold, reducing flood risk and bringing income. The water helps grow sustainable produce for a small business. Each element is part of a holistic system that bridges peace, planet and prosperity and meets residents’ priorities. By connecting the informal settlement with formal planning processes, the Kibera PPS network has influenced policy and practice at city, national and international scales. We’ve also begun replicating the process with disadvantaged communities in Ghana, Haiti and rural California. It may be a big claim, but we believe the PPS model has a global role to play in sustainable development. Working with residents, we’re going to create a toolkit that codifies our unique PPS model, then test and refine it by developing a new PPS in another slum in Nairobi. The toolkit will be a definitive guide to developing PPS’s in any slum or otherwise disadvantaged community. It will put Productive Public Space on the map as a key strategy to bridging peace, planet and prosperity.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The toolkit will enable governments, agencies, nonprofits and severely disadvantaged communities around the world to develop PPS’s, which benefit vulnerable populations in particular: Micro-enterprises and programs increase skills, income, autonomy and social capital for women, sexual minorities, ethnic minorities, migrants, the extreme poor and at-risk youth. Safe, inclusive gathering spaces reduce crime against women and minorities, promote cultural and political exchange between groups, provide safe spaces for children to play, and decrease social isolation for minorities, the elderly and the less able. Improved infrastructure increases mobility and decreases climate risk, which affects women, the elderly, the less able and the extreme poor especially. Urban agriculture provides food and income for women, minorities and the extreme poor. Ecological waste disposal decreases pollution and climate risk, which affect minorities and the extreme poor especially.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Public space is rarely acknowledged as a KEY development strategy in the most vulnerable communities. But we've been creating PPS's in these places for over 10 years to improve Peace, Planet and Prosperity in concrete ways. And if the model works in a slum in Nairobi, we think it’ll work anywhere. Why is it so effective? First, a PPS is designed WITH, not for. People know what they need but organizations rarely listen. By building on local knowledge and assets, a PPS has real impact. Second, PPS’s turn waste spaces into active hubs that strengthen communities holistically. Third, our PPS model creates networks, scaling impact where other initiatives fail. Going beyond evaluation or recommendations, we’re proposing a user-friendly, adaptable, tried-and-tested GUIDE to implementing this solution. With our experience and extensive academic, government, agency and community networks, we’re uniquely qualified to hone this idea in the community before bringing it to a global audience.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a design and community development nonprofit that partners with under-resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in neighborhoods and cities through advocacy, research, planning and built works. Website:

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

On traveling to Nairobi at the suggestion of one of our co-founders, a Kenyan, we befriended a resident of the infamous, yet highly misunderstood Kibera slum. Ibra, a.k.a “the King of Kibera”, showed us the reality - Kibera's entrepreneurialism, hard work, and community - and told us straight: it was no good designing infrastructure or amenities without asking residents what they wanted, and how the improvements could be maintained. This directly inspired our holistic, community-led PPS model.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

In Nairobi's slums, peace, planet and prosperity are influenced by a system of factors. A poorly-planned “upgrade” can cause widespread problems, while a holistic, community-driven solution can have extensive and profound impact. PEACE Politicians exploit ethnic tensions, causing violence. Unemployed residents may resort to crime - a risk heightened by seasonal rains. Rapid urbanization and poverty have caused overcrowding and land disputes, leading to conflict. PLANET Lack of waste disposal forces residents to dump waste into waterways and open spaces, causing air and water pollution and flooding, which is worsening due to climate change. Residents living in poverty buy cheap, unsustainably-produced commodities. PROSPERITY Rapid urbanization has caused overcrowding and unemployment, leaving many youth dependent on family or crime. Lack of basic services forces residents to pay dearly for water and sanitation. Flooding destroys livelihoods and poor access affects business.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We will re-engage existing resident partners in Kibera to create the prototype toolkit, then test it with residents in another slum by developing a PPS. Residents will participate via workshops, focus groups and more. Adelphi, a leading thinktank specializing in interactions between climate change and conflict, will help link the work to international policy and networks. Additional partners may include nonprofits, agencies, researchers and city stakeholders. By partnering with key stakeholders at all levels we will create a definitive PPS toolkit that is accessible and relevant to all audiences and connects with international development policy and practice, as well as promote multi-stakeholder partnerships that continue beyond the project. As well as developing our existing Kibera PPS network through multi-stakeholder collaboration, we have previously engaged community, academic and city partners to research flooding and crime and to prototype flood risk communication methods.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

Many slum residents in Nairobi are skilled due to running businesses and community groups. The youth are a source of skilled labor and innovation, and the depth of knowledge about community challenges - even among children - is a critical asset. People are highly motivated to work together toward common goals. In the words of two resident partners: “We open up, we share challenges and find solutions.” “You work really hard to get what has not been given to you. It's a different way of life.”

Geographic Focus

The idea will be tested in Nairobi for replication in disadvantaged communities around the world.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

MONTHS 1 - 6 Evaluate existing PPS process and impact Gather Kibera community input for toolkit Develop prototype toolkit MONTHS 6 - 30 Test prototype toolkit in another Nairobi slum by developing and programming a new PPS Gather feedback and input at all stages from community members and other partners MONTHS 30 - 36 Develop final toolkit Create supporting materials for toolkit dissemination Hold launch event at IDEO Nairobi with partners, residents and other stakeholders

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

Last year we submitted an idea bridging peace and planet: “a rapid risk assessment tool for integrated and conflict-sensitive development interventions in highly contested spaces”. Like our current proposal, the idea was to leverage our existing PPS network to develop a tool that authorities and residents could use to build social cohesion and climate resilience in slums. However, there are significant differences between this and our new - or rather, old - idea. Since last year we have taken stock of our work in Kibera, listened to community input, and been reminded that challenges such as climate change and urbanization are growing at an increasing rate. A risk assessment tool is of great use to ensure slum interventions are strategically planned. However, given the rapidly worsening conditions in slums around the world, more adaptable, start-to-finish resources are needed. In response to this, we offer our PPS model. It has already been tested for over 10 years. It is our most sustainable and replicable innovation. It bridges peace, planet and prosperity in a holistic way, creating impact in the most challenging of conditions where others have failed. By refining and then codifying it in a well-packaged toolkit, we can provide residents, governments, agencies and nonprofits around the world with a clear methodology for real action. This year’s idea will result in concrete impact on multiple levels. The residents with whom we test the toolkit will get a new PPS and enjoy all its social, economic and environmental benefits, as will anyone who uses our toolkit. It goes further than enabling groundwork or planning. It will give users everything they need to turn waste spaces into PPS networks that improve planet, peace and prosperity. This year, we’re all in. We’re more ambitious. We’re more forward-looking. At the same time, we’re more grounded in what vulnerable communities need and want. It’s time for Productive Public Space to go global!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Asel Zoe

Kounkuey Design Initiative,

Great idea of etching and bringing people together: in my country we say that 1 person is not a vireo in the fild (literal transaction) what means that 1 can never be better than a group.
Including ideas bringing and possibility to bring this ideas to the realization.

Good luck,


Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative

Thank you for your kind comments Asel! It is true that a group can dream up and do so much more than one person alone.

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