HealthBridge works with partners world-wide to improve health and health equity through research, policy and action.

Building Safe and Vibrant Streets and Public Spaces in Africa

June 6-10, 2016 Bellagio, Italy


Streets and public spaces are a key element of individual and social well-being and are critical for the historic, environmental, social and economic functioning of cities.   However, in many cities, especially in African countries, streets and public spaces are chaotic, poorly planned and maintained, if they exist at all.  This is especially the case for informal settlements and slums, which respresents 61.7% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our project will thus look into issues of streets and public spaces in Africa. The goal of this project is to create a platform upon which African cities can build and maintain strong streets and public spaces. 

This is timely as public spaces and street access will have a new importance on the world stage with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Goal 11 focuses on cities and includes a target on providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, especially for vulnerable populations.  This target, if properly implemented, will result in increased number and better access to public spaces that offer opportunities to improve resilience, and to enrich health and the quality of life for all people living in cities.

A big challenge is the adding of new public spaces and improving access to them in already existing urban areas.  As land becomes more precious, public spaces are often converted to residential housing and businesses, especially in poorer communities. For already existing spaces, adding squares and parks becomes impractical. Streets on the other hand provide the best opportunity to enhance both the public realm, as they function as market places, playgrounds, places for physical activity, and places for social connections, and increase the accessibility of public spaces through their transportation function. However, often they are of poor quality and unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, which limits access to the public spaces that do exist. Balancing the street’s function as both a place and as a link between origins and destinations becomes important.

With the attention public spaces will receive in the new SDGs and Habitat III it is important to begin developing a new African platform that sees local researchers and advocates work with public officials to create solutions to the key problems associated with streets and public spaces.   Our project will begin to create that platform with researchers, government officials, and local advocates from Sub-Saharan Africa to share ideas and formulate the movement’s framework.  The output of the meeting will be a paper that outlines the research and advocacy agenda.

Learn more about our Livable Cities program.