|While public space plays myriad vital roles in urban life in African Cities, the value and meaning of public space in the African context is largely unexplored and undocumented. Even when public space projects of merit are completed to advance liveability, sustainability and safety for all, those do not have a platform to exchange experiences, disseminate inspiring practices, co-create progressive and relevant planning and policy frameworks on public spaces. Ultimately, the knowledge and practices mostly remain invisible or disconnected, rather than contributing to an incremental archive of inspiring practices. The above was highlighted as a concern at the 8th Africities Summit, held in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2018, in a session dedicated to “combating the loss of urban green spaces in Africa”. The session, through a set of recommendations, provided the rationale for the establishment of a regional knowledge sharing platform for peer-to-peer learning and exchange of lessons, tools, guidelines and strategies on how to effectively and efficiently plan, design and manage public spaces in African cities. Responding to this clarion call for a regional knowledge platform, the City of Johannesburg in collaboration with the UN-Habitat Global Public Space Programme and GIZ Violence and Crime Prevention Programme formed the Centre on African Public spaces (CAPS) in 2020.
Working jointly as partners and a range of networks and specialised thematic content experts, CAPS is both a home and a resource for a community of urban practitioners, civil society activists, community groups, students and scholars. The Centre is, dedicated to connecting, advancing knowledge, exchanging experiences, sharing resources, growing expertise and mobilizing on a wide range of local and global issues related to public space. In doing so, CAPS aims to advance the field of public space by serving as a central platform for accessing public space content, enabling African cities to learn from each other, showcase inspiring local practices, build knowledge relevant to African contexts and strengthen collaborative visioning, planning, design and management of public spaces among City authorities, practitioners and knowledge institutions. CAPS also aim to influence future generations of urban practitioners by working to integrate public space into the broader urban development field.
CAPS seeks to reimagine public spaces through focusing on the following four work streams;
i. Public sector capacity strengthening;
ii. Engaged and active communities;
iii. Cross-sectoral research and teaching;
iv. Knowledge exchange
The establishment of CAPS is key to the efforts aimed at achieving the New Urban Agenda, advancing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). SDG 11.7 seeks to ensure by 2030, “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces”, while Aspiration 4 in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 calls for “safe and peaceful spaces for individuals, families and communities.”
The objectives of the launch event are as follows:
i. To officially introduce the Centre on African Public Spaces, its mandate, objectives, and programmatic focus;
ii. To call on African governments to centre public space as a vital part of the urban agenda so as to ensure adequate resourcing of the preservation, expansion and development of public spaces on the Continent.
iii. To invite African local government leaders, urban practitioners, civil society organisations, thinkers, scholars and international organisations involved in public space to join the CAPS network;
iv. To call on governments, civil society organisations, international organisations, universities, donors and private sector to pledge their support to CAPS and to ensure that it is sustainable and has long-term impact that will benefit African cities;