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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: kounkuey.org

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!

21 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Asel Zoe
Team

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,

AZ

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

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.

Spam
Photo of Our Workshop
Team

Hello team Kounkuey

This is so great. We would love to use your accrued knowledge in Nairobi and the toolkit/s you are working towards to work in townships - and even more affluent suburbs - here in Cape Town... It looks to me like we could benefit from being in touch more in the future... I am a fan of the Dutch post-war architect Aldo Van Eyck who made some extraordinary public play-spaces...
Great to meet you,
Heath Nash 

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Hi Heath, thank you so much for the kind words! We're really glad to hear you feel this toolkit will be useful to you. We're interested to know if you see it fitting in somehow with the Our Workshop project, or whether you have a more general interest in public space?

Yes, we’re also fans of Aldo Van Eyck and his wonderful, stimulating play spaces for children. Having dedicated play spaces for kids is so important. The lack of safe open space in Kibera is obviously a significant issue for children, which is why we've constructed a number of playgrounds as part of our Productive Public Space network. In rural farmworking California, where we are developing a second PPS network, there is a similar lack of dedicated recreation areas. We're working with local kids - the best play experts - to design playgrounds that take inspiration from the surrounding desert landscape and facilitate both active and passive play. And in Los Angeles we’re piloting a Play Streets program to bring portable playgrounds to park-poor neighborhoods – you can read about it out here! https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/29/arts/design/play-streets-los-angeles-boyle-heights.html It features a custom-made, multi-use play element called a ‘wobble’ that kids use as seesaws, building blocks, obstacle courses… even rocking horses!

Heath if you want to keep in touch, please email us at mail@kounkuey.org! We’d love to talk more.

All the best!

Spam
Photo of Our Workshop
Team

Hey hey
amazing!! This sounds great. the photos from the Boyle Heights temporary space are quite beautiful...
Yes, the toolkit would be very interesting in the context of the township we are based in - there is a decided lack of safe and stimulating play space for kids, and in general a lack of safe public space overall. Street corners seem to be these spaces...
What format is the toolkit? Is it a shareable resource?
soon,
Heath

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Hi Heath,
Thank you for your comments about the Play Streets event! Our designers will be pleased to hear you say that.

Glad to hear you think the toolkit could be useful in your community. We're excited about its applicability in diverse parts of the world. As for its format, the idea is that we co-create it with residents and key stakeholders, so as yet we don't have a very fixed idea of what it will look like. The format will depend to a great extent on what stakeholders think is most accessible to other audiences. The toolkit, in fact, could even be shared through multiple media e.g. online and print. The focus will definitely be on shareability and usability for people of all backgrounds and in diverse settings.

Spam
Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

I love the public-space component of civic development! I'm from Chicago where public space has always been part of the City's design. Great to hear that you are connecting people to the value of public-space development, designation, design, implementation, and upkeep!

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Thank you Kevin! We are huge believers in the power of public space to help people exchange, connect, and thrive. It is nothing less than a critical component of community and environmental capacity and wellbeing.

Spam
Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Yes, exactly. Are you familiar with the Chicago architect from over 100 years ago by the name of, Daniel Burnham? I consider myself a student of his designs and concepts!

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

We are indeed familiar! One of our ultimate goals is to connect that scale of urban planning with grounded, community-level knowledge, priorities, data and assets - especially in places where there has been little formal planning or investment.

Spam
Photo of Kevin Adair
Team

Great to hear.

Spam
Photo of Karuna Kline
Team

Have you thought about how to design and develop these spaces to make them easily accessible and appropriate for young children and their families?

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Hi Karuna, thanks for your question!

Developing accessible, child-friendly places is tricky because we can’t see the world from a toddler’s perspective. However, childcare is often the domain of women in Kibera – as is usually the case in other informal settlements and communities in general – and we find they are a significant, often majority presence in our workshops. It’s also worth noting that challenges facing young children and their families sometimes cross over with those of groups such as the elderly, who also participate in the PPS design process.

It is important to make special efforts to ensure workshops and other engagements (household surveys, interviews, etc.) are inclusive to all, including families with young children and even the children themselves. We conduct workshops and engagements in Swahili, and in spaces and at times that are accessible and convenient to families with young children. The use of interactive data collection methods and architectural models engage children in a way that is accessible and fun. Meanwhile, community organizers can make sure mothers and other women feel comfortable expressing their concerns and opinions, segregating groups by gender if necessary.

Some of the issues that have been raised in our community engagements include:
• Poor access, which makes it difficult for women and families carrying young children to move around Kibera freely.
• Many women have difficulty juggling household chores, income-generating activities and childcare.
• Children do not have safe spaces to play. Even young children often resort to using dumping sites and riverbanks for recreation, exposing them to pollution and risk.
• Floods disproportionately affect women and children, who are more likely to be trapped in the home. Children are susceptible to diarrhea and other diseases – we’ve even heard of kids being blinded from exposure to floodwater.

The solutions that community members have proposed and developed with us include:
• Riverbank stabilization and drainage improvements, which reduce flood risk and pollution and make riverbanks safer places for children.
• Improved access paths and bridges, which significantly improve mobility and safety for young children, mothers, families and the otherwise less able.
• Seating and shade, which provide areas for women and families with young children to rest and stay cool.
• Supervised play spaces adjacent to laundry pads, kiosks, sanitation blocks and community pavilions, enabling women and families to carry out their daily activities while supervising young children. Women at a laundry pad, for example, can socialize, carry out household chores, and supervise each others’ children at the same time – reducing the burden of balancing work and family.
• Women’s microenterprises, which enable women to generate income in a setting that is flexible and inclusive, even when they have young children in tow.
• Childcare collectives, which enable families to work and carry out essential chores while knowing their young children are in safe hands.
• Playgrounds, which provide safe, clean places for young children to play or simply sit under the supervision of older siblings.

As you can see, it’s not a case of KDI deciding how to make spaces accessible and appropriate for young children and their families. We’ve simply developed a process that enables community members, including families and young children, to say what they need and identify how they’re going to meet that need.

We hope this answers your question! Do you have any suggestions for ways to improve our engagement of young children and their families to make PPS’s accessible and suitable?

Spam
Photo of Karuna Kline
Team

FCH-Espwa's partner group, ICRI has a locally run office in Nairobi that has been working in the Kiambiu settlement. There we have been approved by local government to add to our already existing model early childhood center by creating the first children's sensory gardens and community park in the area. This process has helped us to assess and deeply understand how the community must not only lead, but also continue to work with local and field experts to create space that will include organic gardening areas for families to utilize, a soccer field, a community health clinic that will be constructed at the edge of the park and usages of the park space that have been vetted and lead by the local schools, preschools, social clubs, health services, local architects and designers, local health experts including traditional healers and modern health practitioners, etc...

As we have completed our survey of the space, developed the overall children's community gardens and other site plans, we are now beginning the materials procurement and will commence building this remarkable space out of what had been the largest garbage dump area in the settlement.

We have created village level, local and country level planning systems that fully include young children in the planning for and enactment of the development of productive public space's for children and families. For example, in post-earthquake Haiti, we carried out an extensive array of community meetings at all levels and touching the lives of more than 80% of the devastated neighborhood of Del Mars in Port-au-Prince, where more than 25,000 people were living in tents as they started to reconstruct their lives and community. As we conducted sessions lead by local people from the community, we fully engaged the voice of children along side those of adults, by asking open-ended questions in such a manner that anyone from 3-90 could very well answer. The perfect example of the types of responses we received came from a little girl, about 4 years old. As the sky began to darken and we needed oil lamps to see each other across the room, the little girl first whispered something to her father sitting next to her and when observant leaders asked what the little girl was saying and whether she could come across to the local leadership group to tell them directly what she was thinking, she said "before the earth shook there used to be dancing, we had smooth places to dance on and we can't dance like that any more, there must dancing here!" In such a manner, we can always gain remarkable insights and information from children and youth.

If you are interested in continuing the conversation we would be happy to talk further and see if there are potential opportunities to collaborate. You can find us at www.icrichild.org

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

We commend you for your very robust and inclusive community engagement process Karuna, and it comes through in the amazing, detailed insights provided by the young children involved. How amazing that you're building something so similar to a PPS in Kiambiu! We would definitely like to hear more about this and your approach - you can reach us at mail@kounkuey.org. We look forward to speaking!

Spam
Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Kounkuey Design Initiative 

Amazing work. "Public space is rarely acknowledged as a KEY development strategy in the most vulnerable communities." I have seen so many quick impact and "participatory" community project sit empty or be un-usable because the ground work was not done. It is genius to connect urban planning to development in such a practical way which has huge impacts. I have already sent both of your videos to several people. It is good solid community work, not often seen in places like Kibera. Needed globally as you said.

So many questions running through my head. What is the difference working in rural locations? do you have a video explain that work? Have you worked elsewhere in E. Africa, or only in Kibera? How big of an office and how many staff? Do you work with community facilitators. Please contact me, I would love to meet your team and dream up ways to collaborate.

angi@green-string.org

Angi.

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Thank you for all your kind words Angi, and for helping us spread the word! We will definitely be in touch.

Spam
Photo of Angi Yoder Maina
Team

Could not agree more... "It’s time for Productive Public Space to go global!"

Spam
Photo of Allison Pinto
Team

It is great to hear you say, "the depth of knowledge about community challenges - even among children - is a critical asset." We find that is so true here in Florida, USA too! Our efforts relate to coming together around "neighborkids," and productive public space at the neighborhood scale is also essential. Great to hear how you are developing a guide based on your approach, and that you will co-create this guide with Kibera residents. This makes me realize that we did not speak to creating shareable resources as a part of our proposal - if invited to the next phase, we will be sure to speak to this as well! If the Kibera community would be interested in collaborating with a community that is focused on cultivating neighborhood spaces and networks that promote the civic capacity and mental health of kids, it might be fun to find ways to put Kairobi residents and Central-Cocoanut / Lake Maggiore Shores residents directly in touch with one another. Here is our proposal: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/bridgebuilder2/ideas/neighborkid-changemakers

Spam
Photo of Kounkuey Design Initiative
Team

Thank you for your comment Allison – we will definitely keep you on our radar! Your proposal looks really awesome and such a great way to increase kids' civic capacity and connection with their community while gaining new understandings of the neighborhood. Kids can show us things about the neighborhood that we wouldn't even notice - their perspectives are always invigorating.

A volunteer we recently hosted in Kibera said this: “Many of the kids here are so mature and articulate. I was talking to this kid who was maybe about 12 years old, and I asked him to tell me a story about Andolo (one of the poorest areas in Kibera due to its proximity to the Ngong River). He told me about this big flood back in 2013 - he knew the exact date and everything, how high the water had been, and he was able to point out exactly which houses were affected. He must have been about 8 years old when that happened.” This says so much about kids’ ability to identify neighborhood needs and lead change!

Like you, we aim to incorporate kids’ perspectives and knowledge in our work. In Kibera, we built our eighth PPS – a school – with extensive input from students (who range from 2-16 years old!) via workshops. In California, where we are developing a PPS network with disadvantaged farmworker communities, we've trained street teams of youth to collect data about existing community conditions via surveys, interviews and photography. They do a far better job than we do at asking the right questions and gathering nuanced information. We are also currently engaging schoolchildren in workshops to design a nature playground at our second PPS in California.

If you ever want to chat about our work, discuss/exchange techniques for engaging kids, or talk about community-led planning and design in general, please reach out to us at mail@kounkuey.org!

Spam
Photo of Allison Pinto
Team

I very much resonate with your story about the 12-year-old who shared such insight about his community - we find that children are so attuned to the social networks and local history in our neighborhoods too, and it often catches adults by surprise! We also find that children - including kids as young as 2 years old - have valuable ideas and preferences to contribute in co-designing shared spaces and opportunities in the neighborhood. And kids are great stewards and leaders of the community data process, as you described as well! We often reference the work of Ben-Arieh (Measuring and Monitoring the Well-Being of Young Children Around the World, 2006) who anticipated that we would soon see "the creation of a ‘new’ role for children in measuring and monitoring their own well-being—as an active participant rather than subjects of research…children becoming active actors in the effort to measure and monitor their well-being rather than objects of study.” It applies to monitoring not only their own well-being, but also that of their community! Where are you working in California?