The United Nations predicts that by 2050 almost 80% of the world’s population will live in cities, while the population is likely to exceed 11 billion by the end of the 21st century (EEA 2016).
The latest data from the Macedonian State Statistical Office shows that in 2016, the total number of people migrating from rural to urban areas increased by 12.6% compared to the previous year. The trend of migration from any environment to urban is increasing and in the last year, and especially in the capital Skopje, where almost half of the migrants arrived. According to the data, Skopje is the largest and fastest growing city in Macedonia.
In parallel, cities are key contributors to urban sustainability, social development, and environmental performance. They have the potential to be places of innovation and creativity. Building inclusive, healthy, functional, and productive cities is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and there are no easy solutions. A key part of the puzzle, though, lies right at the heart of the world’s urban areas: its public spaces where people living in dense urban areas can find breathing room.
According to the figures and a series of different examinations, Skopje has 5.051.807 square meters of green area or 12.07 per inhabitant, which is twice less than the European recommendations for 25 square meters. This number is very low for an urban environment that is constantly evolving, as well as being built, reshaped, and altered. According to the 2002 census, there are 7.66 square meters of greenery per capita. With the new City’s Urban Plan, it is planned that the greenery will reach 8 square meters, but still, it all comes down to statistics.
Non-governmental organizations consider the central area of the City of Skopje to be the most vulnerable. The study “Conditions and Trends for Reduction of the City Greenery in the Small Ring in Skopje 2002–2017” at “Freedom Square” showed that the construction trend in the last decade has “eaten away” as much as 50% of the existing greenery. In the last ten years, residents of the capital have witnessed extensive and radical changes in urbanism and architecture, especially in public spaces in their communities. Most often, these changes are at the expense of the urban green areas. Several small parks between the city blocks in several Skopje municipalities turned into building plots, which replaced the trees with administrative, commercial or residential cement blocks.
If we want the children and the youth, as well as the parents and the elderly, to remain living inside the city-centers, we must provide them with urban spaces designed and conceived for their physical and psychological constraints.
In order to find an answer to this challenge, Skopje Lab in August 2018 launched a Design Challenge: “ Rethink and Redesign green public areas in the city of Skopje”. Through a co-design process with citizens and interested partners, this initiative aimed to come up with concepts that will fulfil the citizens’ needs and reflect their lifestyle.
But how did Skopje Lab end up working on this initiative?
It was when one concerned citizen showed up in the mayor’s’ office with a list of 24 green public spaces that have the potential, if redesigned, to change the look of the city and offer citizens a space to relax, breathe and create experiences.
Considering the idea valuable for development, since everyone was feeling the consequences of the fast urbanization, Mayor’s office took the idea to Skopje Lab for co-design and ideas generation.
And the exciting journey started….
After careful review of the proposed locations and checks to ensure they all stay green in the next 10–15 years, 12 out of 24 spaces got into the process of redesign.
Understanding the importance of bringing the citizens in the center of the solution, Skopje Lab’s leading principle, the team took off for ethnographic research to more deeply understand citizens needs about that spaces, their behaviour, lifestyles, etc.
Engaging the public administration from the city of Skopje in designing of questionnaires to assess public opinion and several volunteers from different high schools from Skopje to conduct field research, Skopje Lab succeeds to interview more than hundred people and collect more than 150 online ideas for the redesign of these public spaces.
What we came to achieve?
- Developed concepts for public space redesign.
- Designed visualizations for 9 public spaces.
- Developed detailed project concepts for 4 public spaces.
- Identified local narratives and historical background of the 12 public spaces viable for a redesign that later will be used to build a new city brand, especially a local one.
- Developed a full architectural solution for 1 additional public space — Kids playground area with the support of a team of 2 architects.
- Identified several potential partners from the private sector that would like to join the initiative and support the implementation of the public spaces redesign.
Moreover, through the research, Skopje Lab gathered many ideas for future greening of the city, ideas for sustainable models for public space maintenance, as well as more than 70 ideas for locations that need a redesign.
One visual concept developed can be seen below:
The inclusion of the local communities in designing solutions is essential; co-creation and participatory involvement are the keys to new processes of public value production.
Following the success of this first phase (discovery & ideation), we are excited to see the upcoming implementation of the proposed designs as the preparatory work is already underway for four of the twelve public spaces.
To scale up this initiative, Skopje Lab in the next period will embark on a new journey to co-design and develop an online platform to enable citizens and partners to meaningfully engage in the process of designing new public spaces engagement, thus support this initiative to keep rolling for many years ahead.
Keep following us to find out more about our work and the difference we make!
Should you have any ideas or suggestions for our future work around the public spaces please send your proposals directly to [email protected].
Let’s build, together, a resilient, prosperous, safe and inclusive Skopje!