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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Design of Public Spaces in Africa

The topic of formal urban spaces in Africa has always been a powerful discussion and this article takes a rather interesting point of view.

I'm not sure who in Ghana or Nigeria would say that Africans have no use for public spaces and that it is not in our culture. The very point that every space available is taken up by vendors and kiosks speaks to the fact that public spaces are very much in our culture, they just are not very well designed to enhance the urban fabric.

Growing up in Ghana, any empty building lot (where a person takes too long to erect a building) eventually gets taken over by the citizens. It starts with someone building a temporary wood and tin covered tent to sell some food. Very soon a few others join and it becomes an open air market in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It wasn't designed as such and the location is terrible, but together the vendors cut the grass and try to keep it clean and sustain a business (until of course the owner comes back to retain ownership and eventually build something.

The very few formal spaces we have in Ghana are out of the way and entirely too formal. Think of St. Peter's Square in Rome without the church. Essentially a formally paved area in the middle of nowhere for formal gatherings. Again this is not a good urban move when the space is not enhanced by being along the natural path of pedestrian movement. It becomes a dead space until a time when its use is needed.

I'm very much interested to find out how public spaces (designed or not designed) work in other African cities and if others feel as I do that public spaces are very much a part of African culture and how we can design better spaces to reflect this fact.

1 comment:

Victoria Okoye said...

You know, I'd argue that public/community space is characteristic of many traditional African settlements...not so sure about the Ghanaian experience, but definitely in parts of present-day Nigeria. I wrote about it on my blog here: http://africanurbanism.blogspot.com/2012/03/exploring-traditional-african.html

Let me know your thoughts!