The Un-Habitat or the United Nations agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development, whose primary focus is to deal with the challenges of rapid urbanization, has been developing innovative approaches in the urban design field, centered on the active participation of the community. ArchDaily has teamed up with UN-Habitat to bring you weekly news, article, and interviews that highlight this work, with content straight from the source, developed by our editors.
“During this pandemic, public spaces have played a vital role in the health and sustainability of urban communities around the world” states James Delaney, Block by Block chair. In fact, people need to go outside, now more than ever. In order to equip these public spaces to face the challenges of Covid-19, UN-Habitat with the Block by Block Foundation has been supporting ten cities, throughout this past year. With the help of local governments and the community, the initiatives helped covid-proof open urban entities, especially in poor neighborhoods, where there are few shared and green spaces. From creating mobile pop-up playgrounds for children in Hanoi, Vietnam, improving livelihood for street vendors in Dhaka and Khulna, Bangladesh to Covid Proofing of Public Spaces in Bhopal informal settlements, India, these responses have provided help to those who need it the most.
Embracing the potential of public spaces as flexible and resilient areas, these small-scale projects support cities to “slowly reopen and allowed communities to regain confidence in being out in the public realm and use public spaces safely for economic and social purposes”. Located in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Vietnam, Niger, Kenya, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, the interventions address a variety of challenges such as decongestion of local markets, increasing hygiene and sanitation in slums, and raising awareness through culture and art, among others. Fixing the gaps in public spaces, highlighted by the pandemic, such as accessibility, flexibility, design, connectivity, and equitable distribution across a city, activities can help with pressing health, safety, and economic security issues.
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Creating Mobile Pop-Up Playgrounds for Children in Response to COVID-19
While Hanoi has eased social distancing measures, primary school children were still not allowed to go back. In order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 among children in disadvantaged neighborhoods, together with Healthbridge Vietnam, UN-Habitat's proposal focused on increasing the safety and inclusiveness of community playgrounds by promoting physical activities and social connections.
The mobile pop-up playground builds on local capacity to manage and develop a mobile playground model, with recycled and natural materials that require minimum maintenance effort. Challenging at first, several meetings had to be organized with 20 community leaders and ward authorities to stress the benefits of these models. In addition, Healthbridge trained 58 playworkers on Covid-19 prevention measures when designing mobile playgrounds. Suitable in small neighborhood public spaces in highly dense cities where children can easily access the playgrounds while parents watching them from proximity, the project also encouraged the community to come up with its own measures for Covid-19 prevention.
In partnership with HealthBridge Vietnam (HBV), Think Playgrounds, Women’s Unions, Youth Unions, and community leaders, the project resulted in the completion of 7 Mobile Playgrounds, the training of 58 Playworkers, the engagement of 20 Community Leaders, while benefitting 400 Children.
The mobile/pop-up playground project has helped to change the way we use our public land. This site used to be an informal car park, causing problems relating to the environment and traffic. With the agreement of our community and support from the project team including HealthBridge and Think Playgrounds, we could organize the playground at this site in a very creative way. From now on, our neighborhood has a fun public space where children can play and adults can meet and chat. Car parking will never be allowed here. -- Mrs. Thanh Loan, Community leader and chairwoman of the Women’s Union of Ngoc Ha ward, Hanoi.
Improving Livelihood for Street Vendors during Covid-19
Dhaka and Khulna, Bangladesh
To enable physical distancing during the pandemic, the congested temporary markets in Dhaka’s informal settlements have been relocated into open fields. With poorly maintained hygiene measures and difficulties in operations, the project aims to provide immediate support to the vendors in open/street markets. Changing the mindset of the community, the approach is set to be replicated in other neighborhoods in Bangladesh.
Intervention 1: Livelihood support and healthy measures for customers in temporary markets in Dhaka and Khulna
Based on the need’s assessment, conducted by UN-Habitat, together with “Pratyasha”, Come for Road Children, and city councilors, 200 umbrellas were distrusted to protect the vendors on the streets. Extreme poor beneficiaries were also identified and provided with vegetable selling vans to support their economic situation.
Intervention 2: Livelihood support through urban agriculture, in Korail Slum in Dhaka
UN-Habitat together with Paraa, a voluntary research organization, provided a variety of seasonal vegetable seeds to the extreme poor coupled with training on farming for many of the Korail Slum dwellers, who use the unused land along the lakeside for small scale vegetable farming to support their livelihoods.
In partnership with Prottasha-Anti Drug Club, Ward Councilor Offices, Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka South City Corporation, Come for Road Children, Paraa, the project resulted in the creation of 9 Community Workshops, the distribution of 200 Shading Units, the engagement of 200 People and 9,600 Beneficiaries.
I live in Khulna and I used to sell street food in Tootpara before the COVID-19 Pandemic. I lost the job in April 2020 during the lockdown and my family had gone through a really hard time as we did not have much savings. I received a food-selling van from UN-Habitat and Come for Road Children in October 2020. Now I sell street food again and can feed 6 persons in my family. I also maintain healthy measures to ensure the safety of the customers from COVID-19 transmission. I am very happy and grateful for this support. I wish other NGOs and donors will consider taking similar initiatives that directly support poor people who live in slums and lost their livelihoods during the COVID-19 crisis. -- Md Rubel Ahmed, Street Food vendor in Tootpara, Khulna.
Covid Proofing of Public Spaces in Informal Settlements
In Bhopal in India, the pandemic has been particularly threatening to the congested informal settlements. The project targets several informal neighborhoods around the city and aims to improve accessibility to public spaces, sustain livelihoods and maintain social cohesion.
Implemented over a period of 3 months, the intervention will improve public spaces and making them safe for people in 10 informal settlements, through for example the installment of benches to encourage the practice of social distancing and the increase of meeting spaces in the slums.
In partnership with Healthbridge, CFI Trust, the project engaged 3,000+ people through community consultation, volunteer training, mask distribution, and vendor engagements.
The spaces were lying abandoned in the community. It was a den for the hooligans and was a daunting task for the women to pass by. Now the area has been converted into friendly neighborhood spaces. More and more families and community members are present in these areas and it feels protected to be walking around here. -- Lalitha Yadav, 24years, Pipalani 40 Qwater
Lockdown had become a nightmare for us. There is no open space around our slum. The project installed the benches and created decent spaces for sitting and talking to friends. The project helped us learning new behavior of washing hands and wearing masks for protection. -- Nita Yeduvanshi, 19 years, Chhattisgarh labor colony
Info Via UN-Habitat.
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