Massive and rapid urbanization is one of the challenges of our contemporary society that has made good urban planning an extremely emotive issue. Other than planning, urban design and public space structure the city equally powerful tools to engage the challenges of urbanization. Cities of today and those of the future should be designed in a way that allows people to ‘live together’. This can be realized through better structured, used and maintained public spaces. Public spaces are sites which are accessible and enjoyable by all without a profit motive. They are understood as places of ‘shared space’ that are open and accessible to the public. They can be well-deigned roads with pavements, parks, beaches, public libraries and public squares. They are the ‘commons’ of the people, platforms where various activities be it social, cultural, political and spiritual nourishment activities can be carried out.
There is an upcoming ‘narrative of loss’ of public spaces which anchors on the reasoning that modern societies are withdrawing from public lives, with people accessing most of these services from their home and other areas. This can be attributed to the declining quality of these public places, which causes people to prefer gathering, meeting and socializing within the confines of buildings or their rooms. There is also the question of inclusivity of the public spaces. Are our public spaces really ‘spaces of democracy’? Are they accessible to Persons living with disabilities, are they safe for children and are they free from insecurities?
Public spaces have historically often been overlooked and undervalued by urban authorities but is increasingly being considered the backbone of cities. However, our visit to Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi, (see photos below) show that public spaces enhance community cohesion and promote health, happiness, and well-being for citizens in the cities. It is therefore the responsibility of urban authorities, environmental and human rights activists as well as all the urban dwellers to lobby for and work towards well-maintained public spaces.