Productive public space planning and design for inclusive ownership

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) Kibera, Kenya

SDG 1: No povertySDG 3: Good health and well-beingSDG 4: Quality educationSDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a non-profit design and community development organization that partners with under- resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in their neighbourhoods and cities. KDI have taken experiences from working in informal settlements in the global southand applied it on other vulnerable areas globally, including middle and high-income countries where high levels of inequality persist.


Like many cities in Africa, Nairobi faces rapid urbanization and growing inequities between the rich and the poor, which influences the accessibility and inclusivity of public spaces in the city. How people behave in public spaces is also greatly influenced by local traditions and cultural norms, which are reinforced by urban planning strategies. For example,the urban planning practice in Nairobi prioritize vehicular access to public spaces and city services, as well as tendencies of replicating colonial approaches. These practices limit the potential of especially girls, children, and women to participate in public life. As Kenya’s urban centres grow at an unprecedented rate, informal settlements continue to spring up on underutilized government land. As a result, women and girls face specific challenges in places such as Kibera, one of Nairobi’s larges concentrated area of inadequate housing. Here, safe access to sanitary utilities, spaces for education and public recreation are limited. In addition, challenges for women increase during the two seasonal rain periods, as insecurity and the occurrence of gender-based violence is linked to the rains and flooding.

Good practices & solutions

Throughout every stage of KDI’s public space projects, the organisation focuses on engaging the whole community during the whole planning process – from locating and conceptualizing a site
to implementing and managing the project and programs. The first step focuses on capacity building in a way that helps the different community groups collaborate around programmes that benefit the community socially and environmentally while managing the physical space. The next step is design, where focus lies in what type of design that would be most beneficial for the community. The third step is modelling and thinking about how this new development will impact the space. When the urban planning is honest, it widens societal norms. In Kibera, KDI revitalises public spaces to make them accessible for a larger user group. They focus on what in other places might seem basal, e.g. levelling the ground to make it walkable, or create spaces for washing clothes or play with friends. They have created little nooks where most of the population can feel safe.

Outcome & opportunities

Each Kibera Public Space Project faces challenges through acknowledging and utilizing Kibera’s assets in place, e.g. community activism, informal economies and entrepreneurship. Each project has been carried out in cooperation and in coordination with the local community. For example, former trash dumping places have been transformed into local social spaces for meetings and gatherings, for children to play, and for providing improved access to home and work, while strengthening local economies. Similar public space projects have been completed at eight spaces across the Kibera neighbourhood. KDI believes that engaging communities around participatory planning and design is key to sustainable development. Working collaboratively with communities from throughout the whole process, from conception to implementation, enhances technical knowledge and design innovation while connecting residents to available resources and municipal services. When KDI engages the whole community in this way, the special needs of women and girls in public spaces emerge and can be translated into an inclusive place for the whole community.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Involving the community in the development of the Kibera Public Space Project automatically creates a sense of care for the local community, through local ownership and management. During this process, public spaces create opportunities
for learning, employment, and activism for the community. That kind of contextual and human centred thinking is transferrable. The process that was developed in Kibera has now been replicated in other parts of the world, including in the USA.

Related SDG targets
  • 1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
  • 3.6 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination
  • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • 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
  • 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium- sized enterprises, including through access to financial services
  • 10.1 By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average
  • 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
  • g17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Further reading

Photo: © KDI

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Project: Urban Girls Movement