How to design stronger, more resilient communities : Lessons from New York to South Africa at the #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL-2019

The #cocreateDESIGN Festival an initiative by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa, is a platform for South African and Dutch counterparts to exchange innovations for a sustainable future. The 2019 edition, held at the V&A Waterfront on the 25th-26th of February, focused on resilient communities and citizen-led solutions.

  • Watch a presentation outline the curator statement here.
  • Watch all the lectures at the #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL-2019 Conference. here.
  • Access the presentations here

The festival welcomed over 20 speakers, 7 workshops, 2 films and over 300 participants. The two keynote lectures were presented by Ifeoma Ebo, Director of Strategic Design Initiatives at the New York Mayor’s Office and Amira Osman, Professor of Architecture at Tshwane University of Technology.

Best practices from New York City on building community capacity

Ifeoma Ebo’s talk looked at best practices from New York City on building community capacity to activate neighborhood spaces, strengthen social networks and co-create strategies for community resilience to crime and cultural erasure (gentrification).

Ebo discussed the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighbourhood Safety, focusing on examples from low-income communities in Brownsville and Red Hook. Ebo is passionate about social infrastructure – particularly the third spaces (neither work nor home) where communities interact. Ebo’s work at the Mayor’s Office focuses on identifying and solving the stressors which are the root cause of crime and violence in these communities.

According to Ebo only if all these majors stressors are effectively dealt with, can a space be truly safe.

Through the Action Plan, city experts work together with local communities to address concerns related to crime and violence – the idea being that communities should be empowered to develop their own strategies to activate public spaces, as they know their communities best. The Action Plan focus is placed on capacity building, teaching communities about crime prevention through environmental design and place-making. The work also includes teaching people how to do community mapping to develop effective action plans.

Case studies:

  • Belmont Ave, the main street near a large public housing development in Brownsville. The road had fallen into urban decay, with failing businesses and high crime at night. Ebo’s unit partnered with a local cafe to liven the area in the evenings – installing a parklet for roadside seating, and organising jazz performances in the evenings.

  • Another Brownsville project involved converting a vacant lot into a teen centre made with shipping containers – giving students a safe space to hang out after school.

  • Developing a ‘Manifesto’ for black urbanists and community leaders to preserve their heritage and fight gentrification and cultural erasure.

  • Helping to install public WiFi in the geographically-isolated community of Red Hook – connecting local businesses and communities

Resilience thinking for the next generation of designers

Amira Osman’s talk focused on educating future architects and built environment professionals to be able to understand the diverse needs and challenges faced by vulnerable communities and the power of design to address socio-economic conditions in the context of South Africa. Osman emphasised that solutions must serve everyone, rich and poor, and that isolated decision-making strategies are problematic.

Osman’s philosophy focuses on open building, involving long-term partnerships with communities and working with locals artists and artisans, and skills and materials proximate to the site. Osman emphasised that greater equality is essential for community resilience, challenging urban professionals working in Africa to be more imaginative and innovative with their solutions. A future Africa influenced by Wakanda, with glass and steel towers is not an inclusive, feasible solution in the African context.

Nothing presented in South Africa has ever been as powerful as what the Apartheid planners suggested. We need to re-imagine African cities as liveable, loveable cities… Innovative design plans are essential as participation is not about what people want, as designs are experientially determined.

Osman concluded by inviting delegates to join to :

  • explore the concepts of participation in a deeper way
  • explore how to understand resilience in terms of design and how to bring more voices into the design process
  • explore how to build buildings that have inherent, built-in capacity for change – buildings that are lovable and resonate with many people over time and
  • explore how to extend professional services to all