Breaking Silos: Exploring Synergies between Better Public Spaces and Regenerative Cities

During the 3rd Session of the Preparatory Committee towards Habitat III held between 25th and 27th of July 2016 in Surabaya (Indonesia), the World Future Council in partnership with UN Habitat and UCLG ASAPAC hosted a side event exploring the linkages between public spaces and the regenerative city. The event was a call to adopt an integrated approach to public space planning, one that is able to fully grasp the wide-range of co-benefits that emerge from regenerating public spaces.

The panel discussion brought together a diverse group of pannelists including Ms. Dato’ Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Mayor of Sebarang Perai in Malaysia, Dr. Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi, Secretary General at UCLG ASPAC, Mr. Xu Yunfei, urban planner from the Guangzhou Urban Planning & Design Survey Research Institute and Mr. Bruno Dercon, Senior Urban Settlements Officer at UN-Habitat. Together they discussed the synergies between regenerative cities and public spaces. They explored the challenges and policy solutions that can support local authorities create liveable, healthy and inclusive public spaces while also ameliorating the environmental sustainability and resilience of cities.

As emerged during the discussion, it can sometimes be very challenging for city governments to assess and fully value the wide range of benefits and co-benefits that public spaces bring (including social, environmental and economic ones). Therefore, it is essential to identify and comprehensively assess all the co-benefits of regenerating public spaces, as this will play a huge role in mobilizing city governments to take action.

Secondly, an integrated planning approach that allows different city departments and stakeholders to talk to each other and collaborate is needed. Mechanisms must be in place to promote cross-sectoral collaboration. This will enable different departments and stakeholders to understand the benefits that good public space can bring for each one of them. As priorities are aligned and cohesive cooperation across the different actors is prompted, smoother and faster implementation is also safeguarded.

Another key success factor of good public space design and implementation resides in the effective collaboration between public and private bodies in close partnership with the local community. People need to be involved from the planning and design phase down to the implementation and maintenance phase. This is not only fundamental to build quality public spaces but is also an essential prerequisite to effectively finance public spaces. In Guangzhou Province of China, a committee was established to gather comments from citizens and serve as a bridge between the government and local community. This was crucial to ensure public spaces not only would effectively suit the needs of people but also to allow people to feel that their public spaces belong to them. The challenge is often to make sure that a sense of ownership and connection with one´s own public spaces is created.

As highlighted by Bruno Dercon during the discussion, public space regeneration not only allows the creation of greener and more resilient cities (parks, green corridors, walkable, bicycle and transit friendly spaces are undoubtedly beneficial in terms of, for example, pollution reduction, urban ecosystem regeneration and CO2 reduction) but also a true regeneration of people and communities. Public spaces that are designed and planned by engaging local actors will inevitably lead to a revitalization of urban communities, inclusiveness and social equality.  Freely accessible and enjoyable public spaces are also key in facilitating greater social interaction, public engagement and the creation of more lively and people-centred cities.

In conclusion, public space regeneration is one of the most meaningful and effective tools for local governments to engage and affect the lives of people in cities and can be a very effective leveraging tool and starting point for many transformations that will need to happen to make cities more liveable, regenerative, inclusive and just.


Filippo Boselli, Policy Officer, Climate, Energy and Cities, World Future Council

Boping Chen, Director of China Program, Climate, Energy and Cities, World Future Council