Building a global forum for public space

Biennale Spazio Pubblico, Rome, Italy

SDG 1: No povertySDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 16: Peace justice and strong institutionsSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
The Biennial of Public Space is an international forum for knowledge sharing, capacity building and advocacy for public space guidelines globally. Every two years it gathers urban experts from academia, civil society, private sector, local government and international organisations for the only existing summit entirely dedicated to public space.

After the Millennium Development Goals, it was evident that many of the goals that had not been met within the timeframe were related to urban issues, such as sanitation and adequate housing. Therefore, in the negotiations that preceded the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, there was a growing global understanding for the need of a fully urban goal. At the same time, groups of researchers and planners, connected many of the current challenges to the provision and quality of public services and public spaces. However, advocators for a SDG particularly targeting public space would need to come together to highlight the importance of shredding significant global light on the commons in our cities. To do so, the Biennial of Public Space was born.

Good practices & solutions

A milestone for the Biennial of Public Space became the articulation of SDG 11 in the 2030 Agenda, and particularly the formulation of target 11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities. Further, the adoption of the New Urban Agenda feature the importance of good quality urban public space to ensure sustainable urban planning, design and development. However, global knowledge and guidelines were limited in this new field of international policy development. Building on the earlier work of the Biennale in drafting a global Charter of Public Space, together with UN- Habitat a Public Space Toolkit was developed to support the practice of public space planning, design, development, and management.

Outcome & opportunities

The principles in the charter have proved valuable with particular reference to; the prospect of public spaces to good quality lives of urban dwellers; the improvement of neglected spaces; the value of temporary interventions; and the importance of urban public art. The forum proceeded to produce international key messages and guidelines as support for implementing actors on the potential, provision, development and maintenance of public space that could be applied globally. Some of the key principles highlight that public space cuts across many sectoral issues and is a useful platform to address many development concerns, that public space must be regarded as a basic service just like roads, water and electricity and that master planning should include public space as a key structuring element of the city. It also underlines that in order to provide “universal access for all”to the public space, will require a special focus on marginalized groups.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Together, the various actors and initiatives involved in the Biennial have provided lessons learned and recommendations to others such as: Each project and plan need to be a process, in which different actors, users and stakeholders are promoted to increase ownership, trust and identify qualities; Effective participatory approaches should become common practice in the formulation of planning instruments; To innovate public space interventions, we need to either forget references and norms, or introduce new ones based on the users of the particular space; Learning across national and regional contexts is important for innovation and discovery of new relevant tools and methods; Critical evaluation is important to validate approaches and build evidence such as comparative documentation and academic institutions (often public spaces in themselves) can be powerful agents of change if they engage in community development projects, as they are part of the community.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.7 Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • 11.a Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision- making at all levels
  • 17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Further reading

Photo: Elin Andersdotter Fabre, Global Utmaning

FacebookTwitterLinkedInCopy Link

Project: Urban Girls Movement