UN-Habitat is supporting cities to develop evidence-based public space policies and strategies through a community-led initiative.

UN-Habitat is supporting cities to develop evidence-based public space policies and strategies through a community-led initiative.


Quality public spaces are a vital business and marketing tool as cities increasingly compete to attract investment, new residents, businesses, and visitors. As urban population grow, the effective management and sustainability of this growth including the needs and demands of the citizens especially the most vulnerable becomes critical. While cities and local governments recognize the importance of public space and have made efforts to use public space to transform their cities and neighborhoods, these efforts have been primarily site based. These site-based approaches can be scaled-up to many sites across the city but cannot provide distribution, connectivity, accessibility, or programmatic diversity of public spaces. Little effort has also been made towards developing city-wide public space strategies[1] and particularly involving the public in the development of policies. Without this city-wide approach to public space, there has been a growing trend on privatization, grabbing of public land, disappearance of public spaces and eventually creating inequal and segregated cities.

National and local governments need to recognize the role of good quality network of public spaces as a promoter of equity and prosperity. It provides the best means to manage urban growth, support economic development, protect the environment, and promote overall well-being of communities. However, this can only be achieved when cities correct imbalances in public space supply, distribution and quality in different neighborhoods and settlements within the city. Notably, during the COVID 19 pandemic, public and green spaces have become critical areas for containment, testing and for decongesting crowded markets. They offered the much-needed refuge where individuals can be in public, while safely practicing social distancing measures outdoors. More than ever, it has become critical for cities to understand the state of their cities in terms of the spatial distribution and quality of their public and green areas

To support local governments to include a network of public spaces as part of their development plans, UN-Habitat developed the city-wide public space inventory and assessment tool. This tool has been designed as a flexible framework to aid local governments and partners working in public spaces to assess the network[2], distribution[3], accessibility[4], quantity[5], and quality[6] of their public spaces in a cost-effective way. The tool takes a participatory and communityled approach that aims to determine priority areas and sectors of intervention – both spatial and non-spatial– that government and private entities can take to address them.  

“The global community agree that public spaces play a key role in achieving inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements. This means that interventions in public space can support achievement in several other targets within the 2030 Agenda and commitments within the New Urban Agenda. Since the monitoring of SDG 11.7[7] and the public space commitments in New Urban Agenda are done at the city level, this city-wide public space assessment tool also supports local governments to report their progress towards achieving these commitments.”

About the tool

The city-wide public space inventory and assessment is a digital tool developed to assess public spaces in cities and identify gaps for the development of long-term public space strategies and policies. It utilizes a digital questionnaire that can be contextualized to fit different contexts and priorities. Therefore, the assessment could either be formulated to capture the broad and diverse aspects of public space or it can emphasize certain thematic or geographical areas. Application of the tool provides a basis for the actual state of public spaces in the city; that includes the state of public space, the problems, and their causes. Mapping of the supply, quality and distribution of public spaces are important, in order to determine priority areas and sectors of intervention, this included institution,financial and regulatory frameworks. It also identifies where public spaces may be lacking, areas where there might be over provision, poor quality public spaces or poorly located public spaces and where there are opportunities for improvement to meet the local needs. This approach supports the development of evidence-based policy, regulatory and spatial strategy development as well as provides a potential to reorganise institutional set-up and financial mechanisms within the city.

A city-wide public space assessment can be commissioned by a local government due to several reasons, which could be:

  1. A city might not have an inventory of their public spaces.
  2. A city would like to develop a new public space strategy or update an existing public space strategy[8].
  3. A city would like to revise their institutional, legal, and regulatory frameworks and understand where to allocate funding more efficiently.
  4. A city would like to tackle emerging issues such as climate change, safety, biodiversity loss, unplanned urbanization, encroachment of public spaces, heritage loss, accessibility among others.

Once the objective of the assessment has been developed, it is crucial to understand the spatial scale of the assessment within cities. The public space assessment could cover 2 different scales: the administrative boundary[9] and the urban extent[10]. In some instances, the assessment could be designed for specific neighborhoods/geographical areas within the city. This could be in the case where the city would like to pilot and test the public space assessment tool and methodology in the city or where the neighborhood has an independent government body and would like to develop strategies for their neighborhood. The geographic scope and the overall objective of the assessment are set prior to undertaking the assessment.

The Approach:

UN-Habitat works with different city governments and partners in conducting city-wide public space assessments in their respective cities. The model is flexible and dependent on the capacities of the local government and partner.  The city-wide public space assessment tool ensures the active participation of the community through the process from formulation of the reference group, development of the assessment to proposing policy and strategic recommendations for the city’s public spaces. 

The process of conducting a citywide public space assessment has been designed into four parts that are progressive with outputs that are as important as the process and social inclusion being considered at all stages of the process. The process includes (i)pre-field work, (ii) data collection, (iii) reporting and (iv) post city-wide assessment. Each of these parts has steps that should be followed with activities, tools and inspiring cases that are drawn from partners and UN-habitat’s experiences working in cities. UN-Habitat recommends that each city follows the process to guarantee long-term appropriate provision, quality and accessibility of public spaces. However, it recognizes that cities are different with different capacities and are at different stages of development. Therefore, depending on the objective of the city and the level of public space provision there are certain steps that are not mandatory to undertake.

Figure: City-wide public space assessment process.

NOTE: The process is modified depending on the needs and capacity of cities. 


Since 2015, the tool has been regularly updated with feedback from its application in a variety of urban contexts. It has been applied in 30 cities and engaged approximately 1,750 data collectors with every city having different thematic entry points such as children, safety, markets, women, heritage etc. 

Through the application of the tool, 40 training sessions to local governments, community members and volunteers have been conducted on the use of the tool but also the importance of public space and the need for data and participation for policy and strategy development. There have been over 25 visioning workshops to develop recommendations and strategic interventions for the cities. There has also been a keen interest by other cities to use this tool for their own citywide public space strategy work. The tool is also key in monitoring and reporting on SDG 11.7 as well as toward the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Protecting public spaces in Jianghan, Wuhan, China

In 2017, UN-Habitat supported Wuhan Lands Use and Spatial Planning Research Center to undertake a district-wide open public space inventory and assessment. This came at a time when public spaces in the district were being commercialized and threated by the expanding city structures. A training was done for the local government, Wuhan Land Use and Spatial Planning team and data collectors. The result of the city-wide public spaces assessment showed that Jiaghan district falls short of standards set by the National Ecological city of 11m2/capita as well as the international standard of 9m2/capita. Total green public space was just 2.2m2 per capita. Being the densest and least spacious district in Wuhan, Jianghan has to find innovative ways to counter this trend. Moreover, the increase of urban environments in Jianghan District has left public spaces to be derelict and therefore decreasing public space’s function.

The city-wide public space inventory and assessment in Jianghan identified gaps in the safety, accessibility and inclusivity of public spaces. Therefore, in 2018, UN-Habitat identified public spaces that require upgrading and the areas within the district that needed new public spaces to be created. Spaces that required upgrading were identified through an aggregate of indicators and UN-Habitat prepared a map of priority public space for improvement. It was noted that 21% (29) of all public spaces require the most improvement while 29% (41) require the least improvement measures. A spatial analysis of the distribution of public spaces in Jianghan was done and the areas that required new public spaces were identified to be at the periphery of the district accounting for 18% (4.9 km2) of the total area of the district.

These results led to the development of a public space strategy for the district, with an ambitious vision of having “Public Spaces in Jianghan District to be of High Quality, More Accessible, Unique and Diverse.” This vision came with clear goals and objectives to achieve it. To achieve these goals and objectives, a phased implementation was proposed, combining near-term (2017-2022) and long-term (2023-2030) development projects. These was to ensure that upgrading of public spaces to enhance their quality was supported by a long-term green network plan in the district. One public space was selected for upgrading and was implemented in 2018. UN-Habitat together with WLSP will monitor and evaluate the achievements of this strategy.

Image: Data collector interviewing older persons in a public space in Jianghan, Wuhan, China © Wuhan Landuse and Spatial Planning Research Centre. 

Case Study 2: HAYA” Programme “Eliminating Violence Against Women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

To support the “HAYA” Programme “Eliminating Violence Against Women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”, UN-Habitat in collaboration with Ministry of Local Government, the community, academia and private sector to conducted city-wide public space safety audits in five cities in Palestine; Khan Younis, Jenin, Nablus, Jericho and Bethlehem Cluster of Ad Doha, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The aim was to understand women’s and girls’ safety concerns in public spaces and to develop city-level public space strategies that will feed into the national public space policy development process. 

 Through the participation of over 150 active members of the local community including women associations, journalists, local NGOs, International NGOs, handicapped related associations, Ministry of Education, and youth activists; in addition to UN-Habitat, municipality, other municipalities, and representatives of local universities, recommendations were made for each city. Public space strategies that are proposed for Palestine Territory to promote safety and enhance social cohesion include; 1. spatial (reducing spatial inequality by ensuring public spaces are equally distributed within the cities),  2. social (re-integration strategies such as improving public spaces and creating shared spaces by reducing car movement, promoting diversity and social programming in public spaces to reduce perception of unsafety and increase “eyes on the street”, improving infrastructure to support the active use of public spaces) and 3. promote good governance (provide for rules of use in public spaces and apply penalties for all forms of violence against women in public space and ensuring maintenance of public spaces in order to avoid them being perceived as abandoned and thus attracting crime and antisocial behaviour). Public spaces were also prioritized for upgrading based on these assessments and it will lead to the development and regeneration of five safe and inclusive public spaces in the targeted Palestinian Cities.

Key Lessons and Transferability

Through working in these cities and towns, UN-Habitat has considered how the city-wide public space can deliver more value for cities. Preliminary generic approaches that a city can take prior to conducting a city-wide public space assessment includes:

  1. Securing political support to provide the mandate to execute the process for buy-in and allocation of both financial and human resources. UN-Habitat has found that without the support from the local government, the public space assessment reports remain a shelf report without informing the public debate or influencing the development community. The success of the public space assessment conducted in 5 cities in Palestine and in 4 Provincial Districts in Kabul, Afghanistan was a result of direct endorsement by the local and national government. 
  2. Enhance synergy among actors in public space, including municipal government agencies, the private sector, NGOs, women’s groups, community members and others. The city-wide public space assessment is not a task for one individual stakeholder and an inclusive partnership is an important mechanism for its implementation and success. This should be built upon a shared vision and principles that places public space and people at the centre of planning. In all the cities we have worked conducting the assessments, a training is organised for targeted city officials from different departments within the local authority, representatives from academia, NGOs and community members. This orientation provides them with an overview of the activities and how they can align it with their already existing or planned activities. In Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa the Social Affairs department and the Police saw the importance of conducting hot spot analysis for safety to understand where and what type of safety concerns are present to be able to act upon them. In other cities, this continuous engagement has led to greater synergies among partners within the city eg, in Nairobi, Kenya, the process led to the creation of a Public Space Network that is active with over 60 members who support implementation of public space projects, leading urban design competitions and other public space initiatives.
  3. Build the capacity of local partners. We have found in cities where we have worked,there is little capacity to conduct the survey and report on the findings from the city-wide public space assessment. This leads to a lack of accountability and responsibility for taking the findings towards a long-term plan for the city or align it to already existing plans.
  4. Increase funding from sources other than municipal government, such as from the national and provincial governments, donor agencies, the private sector and the public. The task of conducting a city-wide public space assessment requires financial resources to conduct the field study and draw out findings that are useful for strategic and policy change. It also identifies public spaces that require upgrading and areas within the city that need prioritisation for the creation of new public spaces. Often, the cities do not have the financial and human resources to implement all the recommendations and therefore creating opportunities and incentives for private sector involvement could be an added advantage.
  5. Create enabling institutional and regulatory frameworks to accelerate public space development. In Nairobi, Kenya we supported the establishment of a public space unit under the urban planning department where the document and its implementation could be anchored. In other cities such as Kabul, we provided recommendations for institutionalising public space within the local government, to ensure its planning and implementation.
  6. Focus on the overall urban area rather than a small area of the city. In some cities, such as Durban, South Africa we supported in piloting and testing the methodology in the Inner City and Ward 21. However, the recommendations remain for those areas rather than the overall city. Therefore, these cannot be implemented at a city scale and long-term strategies cannot be developed based on findings from only those areas. It is recommended that cities plan to conduct the assessment for the whole urban area to provide comprehensive strategic recommendations. In some cities, however, where the small urban area has an independent local authority, e.g, Wuchang District in Wuhan,China the recommendations can be implemented within the geographical scope.
  7. Ensure an action-oriented process and connect strategic thinking to project implementation. In Jianghan, Wuhan, China, from the findings of the district-wide public space assessment and together with the local partner, we developed strategic priorities and made a road map for implementation. However, the recommendations were not synchronised within the municipal/district work plan and a detailed action plan was not developed, therefore, the implementation of these recommendations remains fluid. 
  8. Balance external influences (political, economic, environmental and social cycles) and long-term ownership of the process.  Without a clear vision for public space, it is difficult to minimise external influences. A written vision is important for the orientation of public space. The strength of it is the fact that it has been debated and discussed and aligned with city development plans and policies and the actual state of public spaces based on results from the city-wide public space assessment. This can help keep the city’s public space planning on track, despite political or other changes. It helps avoid priorities being set in an ad hoc way by reacting to external pulls and pushes


It has become evident, through the application of this tool in 30 cities, that the task of planning and designing city-wide networks of public spaces is not only to deliver equity in spatial distribution and gain from the wide benefits that public spaces have but must also simultaneously design frameworks that will allow those plans to take place effectively and democratically. The process must therefore be anchored on a firm understanding of the role of stakeholders and the socio-political context where these plans and designs take place, but more importantly, should stem from the voices of those these plans are supposed to serve.

Participation is one of the tools that can limit bias in the planning public space. The city-wide public space assessment tool has therefore been anchored within a flexible framework where local governments are able to design new relationships between civil society, the private sector and communities and understand the state of public spaces, gaps and opportunities in the legal and institutional systems, existing forms of partnership and financing mechanisms to develop inclusive and evidence-based city-wide public space strategies. The tool is also applicable in varying contexts and can be adapted to fit priorities of a city and has shown that the inclusion of communities as key stakeholders in the planning process is necessary if actions towards acceptable or desired outcomes are to be met.

[1] City-wide strategies: Compendium on inspiring practices

[2]  A system of public spaces

[3] Spatial balance of public spaces across the city

[4] Spatial accessibility of public space to the population within walking distances

[5] Proportion of urban surface devoted to public spaces

[6] Main design features, operation, and management (comfort, universal access, use, users, amenities and green)

[7] By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive, and accessible, green, and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

[8] Public space strategies can range from thematic ones such as public space and health strategy, by typology such as a park strategy, or an activation strategy for public spaces or public market strategy. They can also be ambitious and incorporate several themes and typologies. This is, however, dependent on the objective of the city

[9] In this case, cities are able to develop strategies within clearly defined jurisdictions. It also becomes easy both in terms of gathering statistics and politically. Additionally, administrative units are frequently those for which policies are implemented.

[10] It is important to note that in some contexts, urban extents go beyond the administrative boundary of the city and may include other cities/jurisdictions. Therefore, a clear governance structure needs to be set-up.

Building urban commons through action research

Building urban commons through action research

Explaining the research method we used for the Plein ’40-’45 case in Amsterdam

Co-creation session

Since late 2018 AUAS researchers of Urban Governance and Social Innovation are involved in the development of the Zero Waste Lab of the street market on Plein ’40-’45 in Amsterdam Nieuw West. The aim of the Zero Waste Lab is to establish better management of the market and the square, with the reducing of plastic packaging material and litter and the development of a circular waste management system. Our activities as researchers are targeted at supporting the involved stakeholders in their ambition to solve these challenges through cooperation, leading to the collective management that is urban commons. Because action research is an important ingredient of our approach and because we think that this method can contribute to the realization of the cooperation that is needed in cities today, we wrote down our experiences in a chapter for the book Seeing the City of Nanke Verloo and Luca Bertolini.

Unlike more conventional forms of research, action researchers actively participate in the practices they study. Participation not only results in a better and deeper understanding, but action researchers also aim to contribute to change. For instance, action researchers investigate situations where practices are stuck or search for the knowledge that is lacking amongst stakeholders. By directly sharing their results with the people they work with, they enrich these practices and further development. In the case of the Zero Waste Lab we, for example, analyzed the interpersonal relations between different stakeholders to find that there was a lack of collectivity amongst stallholders and that their relationship with the municipality was rather problematic or even conflictual. We, therefore, applied forms of community building and mediation.

Building a collective on the market

In particular action research attempts to contribute to fundamental and systemic change. This means that we have a special eye for the context in which specific problems occur. We investigate to what extent these issues are related to, for example, patterns of thought people have adopted, values people adhere to, the culture they have been brought up in, institutional structures and processes they are part of, or overarching provisions and regulation. We then team up with involved stakeholders to help them reflect on their own behavior and that of others. And we work on reflexivity, i.e. creating an understanding of how thoughts and behavior are shaped and oriented by this systemic context. The insights arrived at through reflexivity are then the starting point to explore the possibilities for systemic innovation and, possibly, realizing this transition step by step. In the case of the Zero Waste Lab we have found that, amongst other things, central policies are frustrating the process of self-organization, such as standardized levies for waste disposal. Possibilities to implement variable levies following the ‘polluter pays principle’ would allow local stakeholders to develop an own waste disposal system that stimulates reduction, but moreover, it highlights important questions concerning the relationship between a central government and local governance arrangements around places and practices in the city. The goal is to develop governance that allows local stakeholders to develop practices fitting the local context of users and other circumstances in a collaborative and constructive relationship with overarching institutions, for example through acknowledging the principle of equality, striving for inclusivity, and taking into account the conflicting interests of others and by coordinating logistic and organizational elements with other practices.

Visit of Professor Christian Iaione

Our action research method elaborates on the conclusion of Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione in ‘The City as a Commons’ that urban commons require collaborative governance. The method aims to develop and enhance such governance arrangements and is shored by a conceptual model that can be used to analyze and value practices in terms of collaborative governance used for the collective management of common resources by the community of stakeholders. Collaborative governance is a dynamic and ongoing process of interaction between different stakeholders to come to policy choices. Policy thereby becomes a fluid phenomenon, the flexibility and adaptivity of which suit the complexity and contingency of the urban reality. Precisely because action research is relating to the continuous development and change within the practices it investigates and because it holds an interactive and iterative working method, it is an outstanding method to be used for policy analysis within settings of collaborative governance. Thereby it is also a valuable instrument for researchers and practitioners who are committed to realizing urban commons.

The book chapter elaborates on the activities action researchers perform in their work and the attitudes and routines they need to adhere to. It also gives insight into the role and function of a conceptual model for action researchers and how systemic is strived after, illustrated by examples of the Zero Waste Lab case. Nanke Verloo’s and Luca Bertolini’s book Seeing the City offers a rich collection of innovative research methods that have been particularly developed for use with the urban context. Our research is part of the Future Proof Equilibrium project that is supported by SIA-RAAK. It is also part of the Interreg Europe ABCitiEs programma.

Solidarity and civic initiatives during COVID-19: The cases of Frena La Curva and Ingreso Básico Solidario

Solidarity and civic initiatives during COVID-19: The cases of Frena La Curva and Ingreso Básico Solidario

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Weekly Epidemiological Updates on COVID-19, with information as of December 13, 2020, the number of cases and deaths continued to increase to 70 million cumulative cases and 1.5 million global deaths since the onset of the pandemic. 

The urgency of the situation has favored the emergence of alternatives of various kinds to alleviate the health, economic, social, psychological, etc. effects of the pandemic, many of these alternatives being of a citizen nature, guided by civil society and other diverse actors. 

An example of these initiatives is Frena la Curva – FLC (Slow Down the Curve):

(…) a citizen platform in which volunteers, entrepreneurs, activists, social organizations, makers and laboratories cooperate in public and open innovation, to channel and organize social energy and civic resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving a response from civil society complementary to that of the government and the essential public services. (Frena la curva, 2020)

FLC began on March 12 when the LAAAB team (Open Government Laboratory – Government of Aragon) reflected on the need for some mechanism to organize, channel and enhance the wave of solidarity generated as a result of the advance of the virus, to which groups of volunteers, enterprises and social organizations joined.

Then other open innovation laboratories from all over Spain participated, thanks to which the initiative reached national level when the website frenalacurva.net was launched. Subsequently, it reached Latin American countries thanks to the networks previously created by the civic innovation laboratories promoted by the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB).

A series of phases and steps were established to facilitate the process to countries that wanted to replicate the model, as narrated on their website, remaining as follows:

Phase 1: “URGENT”

STEP 0. Amphibious alliances to weave a community: 

In FLC, the public, the private, the social and the common spheres converge. Different actors convened for a common purpose, following an intensive model of “Think and Do Net”, due to the pressing situation. 

STEP 1. A forum for organizing resistance:

The original idea of creating a self-help application was modified by the speed with which the context changed. it was decided to develop a forum serving as a repository for the social innovation and citizen creativity initiatives that emerged, grouping them into various topics, which today are: To do with the children, Education / To learn, Among neighbors, Work, Culture, Information, Care, Connection, Distributed Citizen Laboratories and Suggestions.

STEP 2. Generate direct impact:

As the digital community and initiatives continued to grow, the need to take action to generate direct impact with the particularities of each local environment became apparent. However, more inclusive and replicable formats such as Distributed Citizen Laboratories and a map that referenced the different initiatives were also considered.

In Latin America, organizational processes to replicate FLC through Telegram began to take place; the first countries to do so were Colombia and Mexico. While each country created its own strategy, FLC offered support and advice.

STEP 3. Distributed Citizen Laboratories

An open call was launched for which 20 projects were registered, some of which were selected. There was a call for collaborators and about 200 people began working on the development of ideas, organizing through various platforms so that projects continued to stay afloat and remain viable. 

STEP 4. A map to take action

An application was developed in the form of a map to organize solidarity between neighbors with the help of a group of trusted volunteers to ensure the safe use of the platform.

The map allows to coordinate the needs of help with the offering of the same, the channeling of the support to people in vulnerable situations through intermediaries, as well as to indicate the existence of public services to satisfy those needs.

Phase 2: “IMPORTANT”

STEP 5. Ecosystem consolidation and map use

The community continued to grow and at the same time, some volunteers asked for relays due to the amount of work. New countries were incorporated and new possibilities arose to create direct impact through the map: traceability of needs with the support of specialized organizations, exchange of materials between maker communities and attention to schools and children without Internet access.

STEP 6. Growth

New partnerships were created with NGOs, neighborhood associations, institutions, etc. to increase the impact of the map. Processes emerging in Latin America were accompanied and an open innovation festival called “Common Challenges” was organized last April.

Distributed Citizen Laboratories

In the case of Distributed Citizen Laboratories, the developed projects were the following:

1. Ingreso Básico Solidario – IBS (Solidarity Basic Income).

2. Citizen map for the construction of local and responsible consumption circuits in the neighborhoods.

3. Community network for food care A Coruña.

4. Design of a community for the management of well-being in COVID-19 times.

5. Collection of official COVID-19 data by province in Spain.

6. Pedagogy and learning. Mathematics and statistics. 

7. Playing with light, first-person stories by resilient children.

8. Standard form for neighborhood ladder communication.

9. #YaVoyxTi, collaborative solidarity app in times of coronavirus.

10. Cooperative voucher for solidarity and future purchase in local markets.

11. Study on participatory designs in emergency situations.

12. Literary diary of confinement.

As can be seen, all projects addressed varied and current problems that require timely solutions. However, the case of project 1. Ingreso Básico Solidario (Solidarity Basic Income) will be explained in more detail since it was personally experienced in Mexico, a country that according to the WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update of 15 December 2020, ranks fifth in cumulative cases and third in cumulative deaths in the Americas region.

One of the identified needs was to alleviate the economic effects of the pandemic that tends to increase the existing inequalities, particularly affecting people who were already in situations of economic vulnerability and structural violence.

For this reason, a platform was developed to facilitate the coordination between people who detected some economic need in their neighborhoods or communities, donors who would like to support them, and associations that could channel the resources obtained through crowdfunding campaigns.

The initiative, which echoes the proposals for implementing a Universal Basic Income, seeks to reflect on the need for a basic income that guarantees minimum material well-being. Since the efforts of the states of the global South have been insufficient to ensure this right in the face of the crisis, IBS proposes collective forms of organization to deal with it from what is common.

The first viable prototype was developed between March and April when the first campaign was launched, and the model worked until August when the project paused to define more agile and efficient mechanisms to carry out the initiatives. During this time five campaigns were launched, benefiting around 275 people with the grossing of $121,869 Mexican pesos.

The campaigns were promoted mainly in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, Mexico’s second-largest city, but also had an impact in other Mexican cities, supporting the provision of food and medicine for people in vulnerable situations, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, as well as the development of educational, cultural activities and psychosocial care for children. 

These initiatives have similarities with those catalyzed by FLC, that have revolved around access to food, coordination between small producers and consumers, support for community kitchens, attention to cases of gender-based violence during confinement and child needs, neighborhood mutual support, transformative economies, promotion of social and solidarity economy ventures, the boost to local currencies, the production and distribution of personal protective equipment, among many other topics.

After 8 months since launch, the FLC platform has been replicated in more than 20 countries, incorporating situated knowledge for its development, according to the particularities of the context. In Europe, it has a presence in Spain, France, Poland, Portugal, and Germany; while in Latin America it is found in Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia. In addition, the countries of Central America, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador joined forces to create a single Central American map.

According to its website, among other FLC impact indicators are more than 900 initiatives registered in the citizen innovation guide, more than 9000 pins on the map, more than 140 Common Challenges projects, 200 people participating in Distributed Laboratories, 800 people cooperating in online communities, and more.

This is particularly relevant given that the regions of the Americas and Europe, where the countries that replicated the FLC model are located, are the ones that continue to carry the greatest burden of the pandemic, being 85% of the new cases and 86% of new deaths globally, according to the WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update of 15 December 2020. 

It is worth mentioning that FLC is just one of the numerous solidarity responses that have emerged in the face of the COVID-19 crisis throughout the world; however, it provides us with clues about the importance of developing and promoting open, innovative and collaborative civic initiatives in which the affected population actively participates in the resolution of the many challenges that we face in common.

“Facing the crisis from what is common.
Together we are stronger, stand in solidarity!”


Frena la curva. (2020). Frena la curva. Retrieved December 01, 2020, from https://frenalacurva.net/

Frena la curva América Latina. (2020). Retrieved December 03, 2020, from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1giNjs6rEtl3_B5tbWjsr_t-KEnBVmS25/view

Ingreso Básico Solidario. (2020). Ingreso Básico Solidario. Retrieved December 10, 2020, from http://ingresobasicosolidario.org/

World Health Organization. (2020, December 15). World Health Organization. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/weekly-epidemiological-update—15-december-2020

Gamification in planning – fun and virtual participatory planning with Minecraft & Co

Gamification in planning – fun and virtual participatory planning with Minecraft & Co

Smart cities promise new, innovative ways of participating and co-creating the cities. While this is often an empty promise, there are some examples of virtual participatory planning that inspire hope. Especially considering Covid-19, we need a shift towards more inclusive and virtual ways of participation. 

This article will look at two computer game-based planning approaches that have proven successful and popular with citizens from all walks of life:

  1. Minecraft for redesigning urban spaces
  2. Cities:Skylines for redesigning urban districts

Example 1: Minecraft and Block by Block: Co-creating public spaces all over the world

In 2013, a Swedish project manager from Swedish Building Services started a cooperation with UN Habitat. Mr. Hallstrom had already implemented some urban planning projects using Minecraft in Sweden. Together with UN Habitat experts, he initiated the “Block by Block” project. This unique cooperation between UN Habitat and game company Mojang consists of participatory workshops, during which residents are encouraged to use Minecraft. Together with the experts, they design and re-design public spaces.

Before the Block by Block intervention in Sao Paulo, Brazil © UN-Habitat

UN Habitat’s Block by Block foundation has funded neighborhood projects in 37 countries already, enabling them to change the urban fabric in their environments. According to the project leaders, more than 25,000 people from diverse backgrounds and age groups have participated. While children and teenagers are most likely to know Minecraft, people from all walks of life have participated. 

Mr. Eugenio Gastelum, a digital technology specialist and consultant for UN Habitat in the Block by Block project, explains that workshop participants are always members of the local community. “We invite people that live around the public spaces, who use them, and who are the real experts of the local situation. We also invite all the stakeholders of the project, the architects, urbanists, or city planners of the project as key attendees, so they can listen to the participants during the workshop and see why they shape the project a certain way”, says Mr. Gastelum.

The rationale for using Minecraft is twofold: it is very appealing for younger generations, who can be included in urban topics and participatory processes via the game; and it is a very easy tool to use. The audience of Block by Block projects is very mixed and often consists of all age groups and different religions. Within 20 minutes, it is possible to teach even illiterate people to move blocks around in the game. For more complex procedures, the facilitators are there to assist.

After the Block by Block intervention in Sao Paulo, Brazil © UN-Habitat

Example 2: Developing a new city district in Stockholm with Cities: Skylines

Whereas Minecraft lends itself to public space planning, in particular, other games can be used at a more detailed level of urban planning. Cities:Skylines is particularly popular with urban planners due to its detail, and has even been used by the City of Stockholm in planning a new city district.

Cities: Skylines is a PC game in which you can build your own city. Along with other city-building simulators, such as SimCity, CityVille, or City Island, Cities: Skylines offers a reduced-stress environment to develop a city, providing quality of life for citizens and problem-solving as infrastructure and economic problems arise. Many urban planners use the game to actually showcase planning ideas and to test them out.

It is important to note that a game like Cities: Skylines also shows what is wrong with urban planning in the real world. This is showcased by how a player starts building cities: by connecting a series of roads, streets, and highways to an already existing main city entrance. This entrance is usually a flyover highway. It is the quintessential concept of American city designing.

Although there are community-created modifications (mods) in the game that allow you to design cities around pedestrian- or bicycle-oriented paths, private vehicles are the backbone of every city and of the whole game. Grid layouts are pushed, whereas public spaces, pedestrian space, and other elements of modern, liveable cities are easily neglected. Even when you focus on using more public transport, the base game makes it hard for you to experiment with more people-friendly urban utopias. In Cities: Skylines, cars are actually spawning out of nowhere.

Despite their faults, in terms of consequence analysis or basics of urban design and planning, games like Cities: Skylines can be very useful. In 2016, the city of Stockholm used the game to plan a new city district. Experts from Paradox, the game publisher that designed Cities: Skylines, were invited to a workshop with the goal of simulating a new district with 12,000 homes and 35,000 workspaces.

Professional city planners, as well as interested citizens and fans of the game, also attended the workshop, making it clear that the shortcomings of the game in terms of public participation can be easily remedied by enabling citizen dialogue and participation. The fact that the professionals used a popular, fun game may even have increased interest and participation.

Here is an impression of Norra Djurgardstaden in Stockholm as planned in Cities: Skylines (currently still under construction):

Can gamification foster participation?

Experts are hoping for gamification to be a new way of offering virtual (and fun) participatory tools to large parts of the population. The accessible tools can also serve to make the idea of a “Right to the City” more relatable, since participatory design tools are an important part of this right. 

Easy-to-learn computer and even smartphone games can allow citizens to co-create and change their urban environment with low cost and effort. As long as political will and funding support this idea, there are indeed many possibilities for initiatives such as the ones described above. 

Even during a pandemic, this kind of participatory planning works well. UN Habitat’s Block by Block project is experimenting with online multiplayer tools although challenges like video and audio quality as well as internet speed must be considered. Since many people are switching to working from home and investing in better internet speed, there is hope for better technological conditions enabling a fun, new way of planning.

In the end, it comes down to political will. As long as the actual planning results from a participatory process are implemented in practice, the tool is successful. Games are a great way of creating community and improving liveability, provided that they are not used as token participation. When people and communities are at the center of the participatory process, there is hope for co-created, liveable and fun cities for us all.

This article contains excerpts from two other articles by the author, published here:


Is Christmas the Jolly Season when it comes to Energy Consumption? 

Is Christmas the Jolly Season when it comes to Energy Consumption? 


This brief article concentrates on Christmas’ energy consumption increase due to the use of decorations and specific appliances for the season. After a brief introduction on the impact on the CO2 levels of such increase, four tips on energy-efficient alternatives are provided. The proposed options span from considering to switch to less-consuming LED light bulbs up to more innovative solutions such as solar energy powered Christmas lights. The last section hence concentrates on the new emerging technologies developed to save energy during the Christmas holidays. These include flexible and adaptable solar panels for Christmas lighting and Smart Illumination Control systems which help to save energy by automatically turning on and off decorative lights. We conclude by underlining that Christmas should not be jolly only for us but also for the planet itself.


Christmas is indeed the season to be jolly but not when it comes to energy consumption. As a matter of fact, Christmas holidays are characterized by a sharp rise of energy consumption which leads to higher emissions of CO2 (Balestreri, 2018). During Christmas time, energy consumption increases by 30% due to a major use of decorations and appliances (Ibid). To better understand the intensity of this phenomenon, let’s consider the fact that in the US, for example, Christmas decorations account for 6.63 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity consumption. With this in mind, consider that El Salvador’s annual electricity consumption accounts for 5.35 billion kilowatt-hours, Ethiopia’s one for 5.30 billion while Tanzania’s one for 4.81 billion (Moss & Agyapong, 2015).


The research methodology approach of this article is based on the collection and analysis of papers, articles and data. Our aim is not to solve the problems related to the Christmas lights’ energy consumption, but rather to provide a report with information about the topic and data showing common trends across the world and to suggest effective solutions, which already exist, to mitigate the problem. Moreover, to give consistency to the study, we gather shared solutions between countries, thus combining both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the problem.


 During Christmas holidays, it is easy to forget about being energy-conscious as we light up our homes. However, according to our research, several useful tips can help us in saving energy consumption also during the holidays. Firstly, switching to LED lights leads to two main advantages: a 90% reduction in electricity compared to regular Christmas decorations and a duration set between 50.000 and 200.000 hours. Secondly, adopting a timer would allow programming when to switch the lights on and off avoiding energy waste. Furthermore, choosing fiber optic decorations can improve energy consumption rates. Indeed, this type of technology uses a single light source that flows through a fiber cable extending the light beam across the area covered by the cable, allowing much more efficiency and savings. Finally, the adoption of solar energy powered Christmas lights work with no need of a switch: they turn on when it gets dark, and stay on for 8-10 hours.


Having seen the existing practical solutions to the problem, we also deem appropriate to analyze the underlying innovative and emerging technologies developed to save energy during the Christmas holidays. Solar-powered lighting systems utilize one or more solar energy gatherers to generate electricity that is then stored in a battery to power, for example, outdoor Christmas tree’s lights. This lighting system uses flexible solar panels, this means that they can assume various shapes, for example, the form of a star that can be placed at the top of a Christmas tree. On the other hand, Smart Illumination Control systems help to save energy by automatically turning on and off the Christmas lights. Blachere Illumination has integrated this system with its BIOPRINT, a LED illumination light made of completely recyclable biodegradable material, meaning that, when disposed, no unwelcomed carbon footprint is left behind.


This article began by showing the relevance of the issues related to the rise of energy consumption due to Christmas lights. Later on, tips on how to mitigate this issue have been provided, especially underlying the most innovative ones. Finally, in the discussion session, we went deeper into the functioning of the most innovative solutions. We believe that Christmas should be jolly not only for us but also for the planet itself.

This article has been written by the students of the Luiss new Msc in Law, Digital Innovation and Sustainability in the context of the class of Law and Policy of Innovation and Sustainability taught by Professor Christian Iaione. The cluster “Energy” is composed of the following students: Sofia Brunelli, Tommaso Dumontel, Josette Gonzales, Federica Muzi, and Riccardo Negrini.


G. Balestrieri, 2018, “Natale fa impennare i consumi elettrici, ma le luci a Led salvano l’ambiente”, Business insider italia

T. Moss & P. Agyapong, 2015, “US Christmas lights use more energy than entire countries”, Phys.org

Constellation, 2015“10 easy ways to save energy during the holidays”, Blog Constellation.com

X. Juan, L. Jin, D. Xiu-xiang, 2018, Design of LED energy-saving lights in holiday night landscape: a case study on Christmas night landscape in Jinan Parc 66, Shandong Jianzhu University.

N. L. Ballarini, R. J. Ballarini, 2007, Solar-powered lighting system, US Patent.

K. Hogan, Future Home Tech: 8 Energy-Saving Solutions on the Horizon, Energy.gov.