A New Placemaking Agenda for African Cities

A New Placemaking Agenda for African Cities

Session Summary

This session moves to re-think and re-interrogate the notion of place-making. By re-grounding our understanding of what it means to make place in real world, organic lived experiences, Rashiq Fataar of Our Future Cities hosts a session that reframes placemaking and moves towards constructing a New Placemaking Agenda inspired by the stories of African cities.

Monique Marks of the Urban Futures Centre at the Durban University of Technology shared insights into what placemaking for the marginalized could and should look like through her experiences at the Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre, which works to provide opioid substitution therapy to the city’s drug using population. She highlighted the importance of creating spaces of dignity and engaging meaningfully with a group of diverse stakeholders.

Stephanie Briers, an architect and PhD candidate at ETH in Zurich shared powerful insights from her work in public space in informal settlements. She emphasized that the particular power of lighting in these public spaces is that it doesn’t govern what a place should be, and instead creates opportunities for ownership, appropriation and self-determination within the community.

Franklin Kirimi of the Kounkuey Design Initiative spoke about a project run by this organization in Kibera, Nairobi that saw a dumping site transform into a multifunctional, community-led public space. The commitment to co-design and growing community involvement and ownership throughout the project was a clear factor in the level of sustainable and wide-reaching impact that this project was able to achieve.

Malaika Toyo of Made Culture spoke of art and festivals as a means to engage with the community and galvanize social action. She expressed the importance of understanding placemaking actions and interventions as prototypes or pilots, and prioritizing continued experimentation. She also proposed a shift in focus away from design-based interventions and towards interaction based interventions.

Panelists and participants together collaborated on putting together a New Placemaking Agenda, which included ideas like understanding placemaking as transient, and the importance of users performing the role of overseers and providers in their public spaces.


Host: Our Future Cities (OFC), with session moderation by Rashiq Fataar

Speakers: Monique Marks (Professor, Urban Futures Centre) – Durban, South Africa, Malaika Toyo (Principal Director, Made Culture) – Lagos, Nigeria, Franklin Kirimi (Landscape Design Coordinator, Kounkuey Design Initiative) – Kenya & Stephanie Briers (Chair of Sociology, Institute of Science, Technology and Policy) – Zürich, Switzerland


Monique Marks

Malaika Toyo

Prof. Monique Marks currently heads up the Urban Futures Centre (UFC) at the Durban University of Technology. Initially trained as a social worker, she holds a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Natal. She writes predominantly in the fields of criminology and sociology, and more recently also in the field of public health. She has published seven books, three monographs and four edited works. She has also published over 60 peer reviewed articles. She is an NRF B-rated researcher indicating that she has substantive international recognition. Over the past five years she has developed a special interest in drug use disorders and drug policy. She, together with a team from TB HIV Care, directed South Africa’s first opioid substitution demonstration programme. This programme has been fundamental in shaping government policy and implementation planning. Currently, the UFC, together with public health NGO, Advance Access and Delivery, manage South Africa’s first comprehensive harm reduction centre. The Bellhaven Harm Reduction Centre provides medical and psycho-social services to roughly 500 homeless and low-income people who use drugs. This centre is also a hub for research on drug use and for service learning across multiple disciplines. Prof. Marks is the vice-chairperson of the eThekwini Homeless Committee which is chaired by Deputy Mayor, Belinda Scott. She sits on advisory committees for a number of international boards focused on public safety and public health. She is the chairperson of the Human Science Research Council Editorial Board, and is the  founder of the KwaZulu-Natal Harm Reduction Advocacy Group which is linked to national and international harm reduction networks.

Malaika Toyo is a social development consultant and the Principal Director of Made Culture – a project management and development consultancy based in Nigeria. She designs solutions at the confluence of business, culture, and politics in Africa. She is an entrepreneurial thinker with innovative ideas driven by people and business insights. She has a deep passion for supporting small businesses and start-ups with a focus on using co-design methodologies and leveraging technology to solve Africa’s most pressing problem.  She is also a director at A Whitespace Creative Agency where she actively works to improve the creative entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Franklin Kirimi

Frank is interested in the role that design plays in enabling socially inclusive urban landscapes and has a passion for exploring how public spaces can combine sensitivity in drainage, functionality and aesthetics of place. At KDI, Frank develops design strategies and solutions for Productive Public Space projects in Kenya, and is integral to the planning and delivery of community co-design workshops. Frank has 6+ years of experience in hands-on participatory design approaches and the subsequent conception, development and implementation of low-cost, high-impact design interventions. His particular focuses are in marrying different scales of design, planning and development and in sustainable drainage strategies for climate change adaptation. Franklin holds a B.A. in Landscape Architecture from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

Stephanie Briers

Stephanie is a South African architect, and urbanist, focusing on “design for social change”, critical urban studies, planning and policy-making in the global south, particularly South Africa. She works within a transdisciplinary and action research framework, where she engages with a variety of scientific and non-scientific collaborators and stakeholders to address real-world problems and induce change. Her doctoral research at ETH Zurich, Department of Landscape and Urbanism, focuses on lived realities in informal settlements after dark.

Alternative drivers of placemaking in African cities: How social action, activations, community participation and events improve the public realm  

Placemaking is integral to ensure the quality of life of residents and to create a public realm that supports both formal and informal activities, needs and expressions. This session aims to explore various ways in which public spaces have been transformed, indirectly, through other means rather than an urban planning or urban design intervention. We intend to showcase examples where placemaking is the outcome, both unplanned or spontaneous (even surprising). We also hope to learn from these projects where placemaking is the outcome of an activation, built process, active community participation, or event, rather than a by-product of technical intervention. Our goal is to celebrate place-makers and public space champions working across the African continent through various lenses and processes. Through reflecting on each project, most of which are at the community scale, we hope to provoke similar action that could be applied be in different contexts. These stories provide hope for future creative idea generation around more effective public space provision and placemaking while allowing placemaking to be embedded more authentically into city life and city building.