The Public Spaces Network (PSN) was established by Robinson Esialimba. PSN seeks to change the face of Nairobi by creating a cleaner, greener, safer, and more inclusive city. In order to achieve this, the Changing Faces Competition was born. Initiated in 2014, the competition has to date seen the participation of more than three hundred youth groups from across Nairobi rehabilitate more than two hundred spaces.
The annual award-winning initiative mobilizes youth teams through an engaging competition that encourages the youth to take responsibility for managing the public spaces around them such as streets, rivers, sidewalks, river banks, and neighborhood corridors. They compete against their peers to see which team will create the cleanest, aesthetically pleasing, and safest space in their neighborhood. The teams then work for about three months to transform the community space using low-cost, sustainable, locally available materials to transform these spaces and in the end, the best teams are then recognized with a monetary award.
This year’s theme “Shaping Places, Changing Mindsets” was launched in October 2020 supported by Dream Town – a Danish Non-profit Organization, UN-Habitat, and Nairobi Metropolitan Services. It saw the participation of one hundred and fourteen teams representing more than one thousand young people from across the city (during a pandemic no less!).
How was judging done?
Each team of judges visited a maximum of five sites. The criteria used by the judges were; physical transformation of the space, sustainability of the plan, and the impact of the transformation on the users of the space. After the site visits a deliberation session was held where the judges gathered to decide on the winning teams. The teams that got through to the next phase had some common characteristics such as the guidance of one visionary leader, committed team members of varied ages, experience, and gender, positive and early engagement with government in the project, seeking and getting buy-in from the surrounding community to name a few.
Effect of greening spaces
The transformed spaces have resulted in the creation of gardens, children’s libraries, and playgrounds, moreover there is improved perception by residents of their neighborhood, increased safety, increased health, and a general uplifting in the overall quality of life.
The award ceremony at John Michuki Park on 14th July 2021 brought together several members of the public, government, and team members and marked the end of the first phase and the starting point of a second phase, which is a new addition to the competition.
Only five teams were selected from the second phase of the completion
Phase One Winners
- Overall Winner – Kamkunji Environmental and conservation Community
- The Nairobi River Challenge – Komb Green Solutions from Korogocho
- Playgrounds Challenge (child friendly space) – Believers Youth Group from Dandora
- Courtyards Challenge – Wahenga Youth Group from Kayole
- Best Newcomer Effort – Sister Brother Love from Dandora
- Most Resilient Team – PGT Amps from Kayole
- Special Award for Consistency – Mustard Seed from Dandora
- Best Community Champion – Josephat Karomi from Kamkunji
The second phase involved connecting the competitors with experts from various fields to help them assess the work they did in the first phase and then guide them in scaling up their work. At the end of the workshop five teams were declared winners, the cash and skills gained will assist them in presenting their upgraded spaces at the UN World Urban Forum in Poland in 2022.
Phase Two Winners
- Kamkunji Environmental and Conservation Community
- Komb Green Solutions from Korogocho
- Believers Youth Group
- Sister Brother Love
- Wahenga Youth Group
Future of green spaces
It goes without question that green spaces such as City Park, Uhuru Park as well as community green spaces require advocacy. The last few decades have shown us that there are certain critical issues that surround these spaces that we need to create awareness around, some examples of these issues are:
- Legal protection for public spaces
- Policies specific to green public spaces
- Urban planning that purposely includes public spaces
- Stronger policies as well as enforcement of current laws that govern waste disposal and land use
- Equal and equitable community access
To overcome some of these issues the teams discussed how to engage in advocacy to sustain green spaces and these included but were not limited to activism, workshops, sports activities, lectures and presentations, petitions, peaceful protest, collaborations with interested parties, documentaries, manifestations, and competitions to name a few. All these and more would be of great benefit not only to the public spaces within Nairobi but countrywide.
It is worth noting that most of the public spaces from previous competitions have remained transformed, which is the aim. This is as a result of identifying income-generating activities related to the maintenance of the spaces which has created new job opportunities for previously unemployed youth. It was however noted by several judges that public spaces need to remain free and that income generation cannot overtake the main essence of public space.
It is hoped that as this competition continues it will create green corridors in the city as well as link these community activities to the larger Nairobi city and Nairobi River regeneration efforts. The idea is to involve teams of representative demographics from local communities to lead the effort towards a cleaner, safer, greener Nairobi.
by Cynthia Wambaa