Making Cities Together: Planners becoming Placemakers

The capital city of Nairobi, Kenya is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation in recent years has forced limited public open spaces (originally intended to serve a population of 250,000) to serve more than 3 million people. Public open spaces in Nairobi suffer from degradation, overcrowding and insecurity, thus denying city residents access to much-needed recreation and leisure facilities. Furthermore, citizens do not feel a sense of collective ownership or a ‘right’ to existing public spaces. Corruption and violence is used to control these spaces and crime is rampant.

“Making Cities Together: Planners becoming Placemakers”
Partners: Placemakers Nairobi, INTI and IFHP Urbego
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Date: November 2014 – January 2016

For this reason, we see a clear need to provide a positive alternative. Jointly initiated and organized by Placemakers, the International New Town Institute and the International Federation of Housing and Planning, the "Making Cities Together" project brings together international urban planners to brainstorm, together with local experts and stakeholders, and design a placemaking project in Nairobi that will meet an urgent and specific need, provide a renewed sense of shared ownership and act as a replicable model for future projects that desire to reclaim public space as a useful, beautiful aspect of the city.

Placemaking, is a community-based co-creation approach to revitalise public space with local knowledge, ideas and assets. In Nairobi, participation in development of successful public spaces is already taking place (in an ad-hoc manner) through organisations like UN-Habitat, Nairobi City Planning Department, local initiatives, etc. However, those placemaking movements face serious challenges. Citizens are not used to being involved or active in their urban environment and trust between all parties has to be built up over time.

The "Making Cities Together" project is a year-long, international professional knowledge exchange and capacity-building project in concert with INTI’s longer-term “New New Towns: Africa” project. We will research local placemaking initiatives, connect them and develop strategies to improve them through co-creation. We will actively implement one of the scenarios that results from an international design workshop to experiment and show an innovative strategy to improve an existing placemaking initiative. This process will then become a working model for future placemaking initiatives in Nairobi—giving locals a clear way forward to implement bottom-up, participatory projects and thus creating a ripple effect.

The intended results are ambitious, but not unrealistic. The committed partners behind the "Making Cities Together" project hope to achieve real change on the ground in Nairobi. By collaboratively building a concrete architectural solution to a local challenge and thereby reinvigorating a public space, this project will provide a real model for other urban pioneers who may wish to make changes but not know where to start. By publishing our process and project details online, we will provide a platform for dialogue, knowledge sharing and interaction that does not yet exist in this city.