Working with local communities, UN Habitat have helped to ‘Covid-proof’ public spaces in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India.
The UN-Habitat has been developing innovative approaches in the urban design field, with a big focus on engaging active participation from the community.
“During this pandemic, public spaces have played a vital role in the health and sustainability of urban communities around the world” states James Delaney, chair of Block by Block. In fact, people need to go outside, now more than ever. To ensure these public spaces can survive the challenges presented by Covid-19, the UN-Habitat has teamed up with the Block by Block foundation to support ten cities over the past year.
With the help of local governments and the community, the initiatives helped ‘Covid-proof’ open urban entities, especially in poor neighbourhoods, where there are few shared and green spaces. From creating mobile pop-up playgrounds for children in Hanoi, Vietnam, improving livelihood for street vendors in Dhaka and Khulna, Bangladesh to the Covid-proofing of public spaces in Bhopal informal settlements, India, these responses have provided help to those who need it the most.
Embracing the potential of public spaces as flexible and resilient areas, these small-scale projects support cities to “slowly reopen and allowed communities to regain confidence in being out in the public realm and use public spaces safely for economic and social purposes”. Located in Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Vietnam, Niger, Kenya, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, the interventions address a variety of challenges such as decongestion of local markets, increasing hygiene and sanitation in slums, and raising awareness through culture and art, among others. Fixing the gaps in public spaces, highlighted by the pandemic, such as accessibility, flexibility, design, connectivity, and equitable distribution across a city, activities can help with pressing health, safety, and economic security issues.
Mobile Pop-Up Playgrounds in Response to Covid-19
While Hanoi has eased social distancing measures, primary school children were still not allowed to go back. In order to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19 among children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, together with Healthbridge Vietnam, UN-Habitat's proposal focused on increasing the safety and inclusiveness of community playgrounds by promoting physical activities and social connections.
The mobile pop-up playground builds on local capacity to manage and develop a mobile playground model, with recycled and natural materials that require minimum maintenance effort. Challenging at first, several meetings had to be organized with 20 community leaders and ward authorities to stress the benefits of these models. In addition, Healthbridge trained 58 playworkers on Covid-19 prevention measures when designing mobile playgrounds. Suitable in small neighbourhood public spaces in highly dense cities where children can easily access the playgrounds while parents watching them from proximity, the project also encouraged the community to come up with its own measures for Covid-19 prevention.
In partnership with HealthBridge Vietnam (HBV), Think Playgrounds, Women’s Unions, Youth Unions, and community leaders, the project resulted in the completion of seven Mobile Playgrounds, the training of 58 Playworkers, the engagement of 20 Community Leaders, while benefitting 400 Children.
Improving Livelihood for Street Vendors
To enable physical distancing during the pandemic, the congested temporary markets in Dhaka’s informal settlements have been relocated into open fields. With poorly maintained hygiene measures and difficulties in operations, the project aims to provide immediate support to the vendors in open/street markets. Changing the mindset of the community, the approach is set to be replicated in other neighbourhoods in Bangladesh.
Based on the need’s assessment, conducted by UN-Habitat, together with “Pratyasha”, Come for Road Children, and city councillors, 200 umbrellas were distrusted to protect the vendors on the streets. Extreme poor beneficiaries were also identified and provided with vegetable selling vans to support their economic situation.
UN-Habitat together with Paraa, a voluntary research organization, provided a variety of seasonal vegetable seeds to the extreme poor coupled with training on farming for many of the Korail Slum dwellers, who use the unused land along the lakeside for small scale vegetable farming to support their livelihoods.
In partnership with Prottasha-Anti Drug Club, Ward Councilor Offices, Dhaka North City Corporation, Dhaka South City Corporation, Come for Road Children, Paraa, the project resulted in the creation of nine Community Workshops, the distribution of 200 Shading Units, the engagement of 200 People and 9,600 Beneficiaries.
Covid Proofing of Public Spaces in Informal Settlements
In Bhopal in India, the pandemic has been particularly threatening to the congested informal settlements. The project targets several informal neighbourhoods around the city and aims to improve accessibility to public spaces, sustain livelihoods and maintain social cohesion.
Implemented over a period of three months, the intervention will improve public spaces and making them safe for people in ten informal settlements, through for example the instalment of benches to encourage the practice of social distancing and the increase of meeting spaces in the slums.
In partnership with Healthbridge, CFI Trust, the project engaged 3,000+ people through community consultation, volunteer training, mask distribution, and vendor engagements.
Images via ArchDaily