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UN-Habitat’s Global Public Space Programme, launched in 2012, is now active in more than 30 cities across the world. The programme’s objective is to promote public spaces as a keystone for sustainable cities to ensure a good quality of life for all. This is done through policy guides, capacity building, knowledge sharing, carrying out advocacy work and actual implementation. Together with local government and civil society partners, the programme has implemented more than 80 concrete public space upgrading projects selected through annual expressions of interests. The programme assists cities to determine their needs for public space through mapping exercises and city-wide public space strategies as well as urban development frameworks. These work has been proven to be effective in achieving social, economic and environmental benefits. The good policy and practices on a global level are shared through a network of more than a hundred partner organizations.
There is a correlation between planned urbanisation and positive social and economic development. Well-planned urbanisation is a powerful tool in creating employment opportunities and in boosting the economy. This means looking at urbanisation as a tool for development. UN-Habitat supports countries to develop urban planning methods and systems to address current urbanisation challenges such as population growth, urban sprawl, poverty and inequality. This is done by promoting compact, better integrated and connected cities that are socially inclusive and resilient to climate change.
Public spaces are all places publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all for free and without a profit motive. The importance of high-quality public space for sustainable development has increasingly been recognized by UN Member States.
Public space is a common good and a key enabler of human rights, empowering women and providing opportunities for youth. It is crucial for the urban poor and a powerful tool to improve equity and promote inclusion; public space is often considered ‘the poor people’s living room’. Public space contributes to building social cohesion and provides space for social and cultural interaction. Public spaces that are open to all can bring communities together, provide meeting spaces and foster social ties. Gender-sensitive public space enhances women’s safety and feelings of security, through lighting, clear lines of sight and access to public transportation. Mixed, diverse, vibrant and busy public spaces reduce insecurity and fear of crime. Well-designed and well-maintained streets and public spaces can contribute to improving mutual trust and safety.
Public space provides important benefits to all forms of business, both formal and informal. As cities increasingly compete with one another to attract investment, good streets, market places, parks, squares, gardens and other public facilities becomes a vital business and marketing tool. In addition, good public spaces can increase the land values of the adjacent properties. Entrepreneurs, large or small, are attracted to locations that offer well-designed, well-managed public places and these in turn attract customers, employees and services. Streets and marketplaces where informal business can be carried out provide poorer urban dwellers with precious livelihood opportunities.
High-quality, well-maintained networks of public spaces can help to improve our physical and mental health by encouraging physical activity and play, reducing stress and providing a calming environment. A well-designed connective matrix of streets and public spaces encourages walking and cycling, and has the power to create a safe environment by reducing vehicle speeds and use.
Adequately planned and designed public spaces play a critical role in mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change. Local and national governments are developing policies that promote more compact, connected and liveable cities, with adequate public space that facilitate public transport, encourages walking and cycling, thereby reducing carbon emissions. Green spaces can act as sustainable drainage system, solar temperature moderator, source of cooling corridors, wind shelter and wildlife habitat. The compact city is the only environmentally sustainable form for a city.