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We are excited to launch our 1st monthly Best Practices Feature which we hope will inform and inspire you on initiatives that are making effective interventions to improve the lives of urban residents around the globe. Each month, we will feature one of the Best Practices winners from the 11th Cycle of the Dubai International Award endorsed by UN-Habitat and Dubai Municipality. If you scroll down, you will this month read about an innovative community-driven approach in rehabilitation and management of public and semi-public spaces in Kenya.

In line with the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goal 11 – to make cities and communities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – the Best Practice Award recognizes significant contributions which: Have a demonstrable and tangible impact on improving people’s quality of life; Are the result of effective partnerships between the public, private and civic sectors of society; Are socially, culturally, economically and environmentally sustainable.

The 11th Cycle of the Dubai International Award on Best Practices comprised of the following categories:

WINNER for Best Practice Transfer in Local Implementation, Urban Redevelopment and Redesign of Urban Spaces

This Award category aims to recognize local governments, private sector, NGOs and other organizations and institutions for designing and implementing local physical actions that have driven transformative change in the urban area.

Name of Organization: Dandora Transformation League (DTL)

Title of Best Practice Initiative: Courtyard System for Management of Public Spaces

Country: Kenya

What is the Courtyard System for Management of Public Spaces?

This is an innovative community-driven approach in rehabilitation and management of public and semi public spaces implemented by the Dandora Transformation League (DTL) in Nairobi, Kenya. The interventions pursued under this approach have resulted in creation of new public spaces, more vibrant street life, increased sense of personal safety, jobs and economic opportunities for the youth, better waste management, mitigation of urban decay and a general improvement of quality of life for area residents.

The intervention and practice entails an informal disaggregation of the neighborhood into cells known as courtyards. The youth and the residents living in those courtyards establish a youth group that is then given the responsibility for the regeneration and maintenance of the space within the courtyard and the adjacent public street. Area residents then make monthly contributions that go towards paying the youth responsible for maintenance. Additionally, the youth are also able to activate the rehabilitated spaces with activities that generate income such as events. This approach positions public space rehabilitation, maintenance and activation as an income opportunity making it self-sustaining and attractive to youth.
Dandora is a low-income neighborhood, 11km from the capital city, Nairobi, with a population of 141,885. The area is well known for high crime rate, criminal youth gangs, youth unemployment, urban decay, unregulated dumpsite and its deleterious effects on both environment and health for surrounding communities and beyond, waste covering most open spaces.

What is the implementation process?

To scale up this approach from one courtyard to over 120 courtyards in the neighbourhood, DTL conceived an innovative gamification approach known as the Changing Faces Competition. In this approach, youth groups are challenged to compete against each other to see who will create the cleanest, greenest and safest public space in the area. The winners are assessed on the basis of BEFORE and AFTER photos taken over a three-month period. During the three-month-long competition, the youth initiate the transformations as volunteers. They are incentivized to identify income-generating opportunities within their courtyards and engage dialogue with the residents of the plots surrounding the space, asking them for monthly contributions for maintenance - after they demonstrate the impact of the transformations. Most of transformations initiated during the competition have been maintained beyond the competition due to identified income-generating opportunities. Moreover, DTL co-opted local youths who are influencers including renown hip-hop stars who grew up but left Dandora to engage with the youth and show them the long-term benefits of the intervention. The competition has run three successful editions from 2014 - 2016 and now in 2018, it is being scaled to the rest of Nairobi.

How has the initiative improved the living environment?

1. Physical transformation of public open spaces

  • Changing Faces Competition has mobilized over 120 youth groups comprising over 3000 youths involved in transformation of 120 spaces.
  • 37 spaces have undergone a significant transformation and been maintained constantly. Spaces have functional drainages and waste management system.
  • The DTL staff monitors the state of places quarterly through a grading system.

2. Improvement of safety

  • The insecurity in the neighbourhood has declined by more than 70% since the initiative has started (source: The Dandora Officer Commanding Police Station)
  • A survey monitoring perception of safety among residents confirms the increased feeling of safety: 53% of respondents stated safety has improved a lot.
Child-friendly spaces Physical transformation has minimized health and security risks for children and multiplied opportunities to play at open spaces. 37 spaces have undergone a significant transformation and been maintained constantly. Spaces have functional drainages and waste management system.

3. Enhanced Social Cohesion and a child-enabling environment

  • Social activity at public spaces (including evening hours) has increased significantly over last three years.
  • The environment in the neighborhood has become child-friendly: children can play in a safe and clean environment and new playgrounds have been created.

4. Change of the narratives

  • Media and informal discussions with Nairobians have shifted from picturing Dandora as a "no-go-zone" to a "new Dandora". Dandora residents express the increasing sense of belonging to the community.

5. Scalable model

  • The courtyard model was successfully scaled up to the entire neighbourhood. Groups from other neighbourhoods have expressed interest to implement the model in their areas.
  • In 2018, DTL banded with other similarly minded organizations and stakeholders from across Nairobi to form the Public Space Network (PSN). PSN is now scaling up Changing Faces Competition to the entire Nairobi.

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