The Lagos Context: Defining Public Spaces


Jumoke Sanwo, Creative Director, Revolving Art Incubator (RAI)

Ayanda Roji, General Manager, Research and Knowledge Management & Ecology, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo


How do we build the capacity of the population to demand better spaces

City practitioners are not doing enough in terms of empowering communities or educating them on the benefits of public spaces beyond the physical form. We cannot blame the lack of knowledge from the people in the absence of adequate knowledge. In South Africa, the effects of apartheid on black communities are evident in the way city practitioners maintain the public spaces. Agency and citizenry are important to raise awareness on the right to the public space and also responsibilities.

Breaking Down the Legislative Process

This period has made us see our communities more and allowed us to identify the issues. Community-based meetups need to be organised more often because it allows us to connect with the issue and address them collectively. there is a challenge with the lack of knowledge on how to address our issues through the government. Often we rely on the election period to communicate the issues or are misled by the misconception of having a connection directly in power before we can be heard. We need to learn the process of registering complaints that highlight the challenges in our communities. There has to be a form of citizen awareness that breaks down these processes of dealing and handling government to a basic level, in different languages for people to engage.

Public Space as an Agenda for Civil Society Organizations

We need ordinary citizens who are interested in what the government is doing, we need people who are asking questions in the city and that is what CSOs represent. There have been evictions of poor people during this period and CSOs have put in the effort to expose the situation and advocate for the rights of people. CSOs play an important role in advocacy and are needed in this process of creating awareness on public space. It boils down to the activism from people in communities. There needs to be an agreement between the government and the private sector.

The Challenge of Ownership

With Urbanisation, people do no have a sense of ownership. People do not feel involved in the process of creating public spaces and this influences engagement in these places. There is no sense of belonging and this is why public spaces are underutilized in the cities. The idea of creating spaces without the community is a challenge for cities and this is why spaces are no longer a part of daily lives. 

Thinking about Pedestrian Spaces

Pedestrianization initiatives need to be organised around the city. With more people taking bike rides and walking in the city, it is the right time to start a conversation. Pedestrian spaces are an important part of the public space and we need to take this time to strategize and plan around this. Organisations need to push and advocate for better spaces that speak to communities.

Check out the Lagos Non-Motorised Transport Policy.

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