Planning for and with Communities to Create Future Cities for All

On the 30th of October, we celebrated World Cities Day 2020, raising awareness about the importance of 'Valuing our Communities and Cities'. Marking the end of the Urban October and to honour this day, UN-Habitat invited programme partners of the UK Prosperity Fund Global Future Cities Programme (GFCP), including city authorities, civil society organisations, delivery partners and international experts to a knowledge-sharing session, creating a room for our partners to exchange their experiences and lessons learned on planning for and with communities during times of COVID-19.

As UN-Habitat's latest World Cities Report emphasises, the value of inclusive participation of all stakeholders plays an essential role in sustainable and inclusive urban development. The knowledge sharing session aimed at unpacking two key aspects: (i) how to deliver effective stakeholder and community involvement throughout the project lifecycle from design through to implementation and monitoring, and (ii) how the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic influenced and challenged an inclusive stakeholder and community engagement.

While COVID-19 and related movement restrictions initially threatened to limit participatory engagement, many project partners have turned this challenge into an opportunity to innovate and seek out new mechanisms for community involvement. Setting the tone for this knowledge sharing session, the UN-Habitat Participatory Public Space Programme team made an introductory presentation on the topic of stakeholder and community engagement through the use of digital tools. Christelle Lahoud presented insights from the longstanding cooperation between the agency and Microsoft, developing a digital participation tool using Minecraft, a game developed to design your imaginary habitat. UN-Habitat's "Block by Block" team used this software to conduct a spatial analysis while piloting an experimental and digitalised form of participation.

The introduction was complemented with a presentation by Setura Mahdi, Regeneration Communications Manager at Clarion Housing Group, one of the UK's largest housing associations. Discussing the unique impacts that COVID-19 had on different resident groups, including LGBTQ residents, children or elderly persons, Setura Mahdi explained how Clarion adapted their regeneration approach to meet the needs of all residents. Efforts to increase digital inclusion coupled with open-air in-person events that allowed for appropriate social distance during the pandemic. In the following two breakout sessions, the GFCP Partners were able to build on the pioneering examples shared, adding to their ability to rethink participatory methods challenged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Stakeholder and community engagement during the project lifecycle

Digitalisation played an essential part in many of the presentations made by our partners. Monique Suksmaningsih, of the Surabaya Urban Transformation Project in Indonesia, for instance, explained the challenges of conducting public hearings to develop a community-led vision with COVID-19 limiting the organisation of community meetings. While a few field surveys, complying to strict health regulations, have been conducted, most interactions with the local community were moved to an online format. Using video-chat software the community was invited to participate in digital focus group discussions, informing the urban transformation strategy for the former red-light district in Surabaya, known as "Dolly".

While moving participation events to a digital and online format seems the most natural solution that many of our partners went for, Caio Scheidegger from Proto Digital in Brazil presented a project that took a slightly different approach.

After a massive increase in Dengue cases within the first quarter of 2020 across the country, Proto Digital developed an open-source approach to conduct city-wide monitoring of the Aedes Mosquito population in Recife. AETRAPP is the name of the application that can easily be downloaded to smartphones and aims to prevent a massive outbreak of Dengue. How it works; local communities are called to participate in what the app's creators call "citizen science". A community-led approach, enabling citizen to build "ovitrampas", traps in which mosquitos lay their eggs. Thanks to the DIY-instructions delivered through the app, users can quickly rebuild these traps with everyday items like an empty soda bottle, paper clips and some paper. After having set up the bait, users then upload a weekly photo of their installed trap, having the app build-in algorithm conduct an automated egg count, providing the information to real-time monitor the Aedes mosquito population in the area.