Since 2012, UN-Habitat has been implementing the global public space programme, with the aim of influencing the participatory development and delivery of around 300 public spaces. Following the conclusion of Habitat 3 held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016 more global initiatives both locally and internationally have been planned for cities around the world.
UN-Habitat has also entered into an innovative partnership with the Swedish computer game company Mojang AB, the makers of the popular computer game Minecraft1. Through the partnership, named Block by Block, UN-Habitat uses Minecraft as a community participation and engagement tool in the design and implementation of public space projects.
In 2015, CAVE had the pleasure to collaborate on The ‘Making Cities Together’ lab project to improve public space in the city, led by Placemakers in collaboration with KUWA, and driven by the tireless work of the grassroots community group DTL, Dandora Transformation League.
Dandora is a low-income residential neighbourhood in Nairobi. The initially well-planned neighbourhood has gradually degenerated to almost slum status. Dandora is infamously known for holding the biggest dump site in East Africa and on of the highest crime rates in the country. On the other hand it is also know as being the birth place of a local genre of rap music that has created a unique subculture that embraces Dandora with all its ills and beauties.
The project was developed during the Making Cities Lab symposium, followed by a series of Minecraft community workshops to think about how to improve public space in Dandora. It was established that gateways marking the entrance to the community’s neighbourhoods would be a good start to highlight the great work that is already being done here. A participatory model street initiative involving the community to help fix roads and pavements, clean drains, plant trees, and build gateways into the neighbourhoods is currently being implemented in partnership with local government.
The Floating Zebra, coined by Cave is the beginning of a broader project to improve public space in Dandora phase 2 and beyond. The plans include the improvement of a vast neglected power riparian leave way to create a public park that links abandoned industrial sheds to the south, with the infamous Dandora dumpsite to the north; one of the largest in Africa, synonymous with crime and drug cartels that the community wants to transform.
The idea itself was spawned by two boys in the community who drew a pergola like gateway over Justen street, which Cave interpreted as a floating zebra crossing that casts a moving shadow of stripes on the street. The floating stripes are visible to motorists on approach, and thereby signal motorists to slow down. This structure deconstructs and then reconstructs the bland meaningless zebra crossing stripes painted on roads in Nairobi, which motorists more often than not ignore. It is a structure that is part public art, part reconstructed street safety utility, signaling the community’s drive to determine what public space means to them.
Construction of this first collaborative, public private initiative to improve public space in Nairobi is ongoing, but not without the usual challenges that come with working in such a colourful and yet complex African city.