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Public Space Planning & Urban Design



Contact Darik Zebenigus Wuhib (PhD Researcher), Ahmed Z. Khan (Supervisor)
Keywords Public Spaces, Qualities of Public Space, Sense of Place, improving public spaces, Planning and Design, Small Towns
Dr. Fisseha Weggayehu, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Project Summary

Public Space Planning and Design for Small Towns: an Ethiopian Context

According to the united nations world urbanization prospect (2014) 54% of the world’s population[1] lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by the year 2050. Looking at Africa, the current 40% urban population is expected to reach 56% by the same year. Specifically Ethiopia, with a current population of 99.3 million[2], is expected to become one of the top contributors to the urban population adding 70.6 million by 2050.

This growth cannot be handled by existing cities. Neither is it expected to happen and contribute in the formation of mega cities nor secondary cities. But rather it is expected that most of this growth will happen in small cities both existing and new.

Cities are the dense living space for people where everything happens every day in a close proximity. It is important to plan and design our urban areas for its inhabitants in order to accommodate the additional urban population in a healthy way and not that it becomes obesogenic.

In urban areas, almost all activities happen in the public realm. The public realm; specifically the public spaces in the urban center are where both the physical (material & people) and non physical (information & service) flow and exchange occur. Even historically, town's use the public space as means to fulfill their social, economic and natural needs. Nowadays, in an era where the public private divide is blurring and more varied public spaces and platforms are being created, addressing and shaping issues in this realm will determine how the city's intricate system functions and how quality of life is improved for its inhabitants. This point has been stressed and emphasized by the writings of various urban scholars, planners and designers including Jacobs, Lynch, Lefebvre, Banerjee, Sternberg, Montgomery, Carmona, Gehl, , Mandanipour & many others.

Even though much of the daily activities of inhabitants in urban areas happen in public spaces, understanding public spaces in the regional and local context of the study area, i.e. Ethiopia and Amdework, and their integration in planning and design process is an aspect not adequately addressed. Currently, such spaces are either nonexistent, congested, not well managed, repelling, lack cleanness, not planned for, lacking participation, are left over places or are fenced off. The issue is also lacking political commitment as the government’s policy is focused on housing and other Physical infrastructure. (GTP II , 2015-2020)

Therefore, learning from global theories and looking to local context of Ethiopia, the objective is:

  • to understand and learn the qualities of a successful working public space & public realm in the local situation by learning from the global & the international scale;
  • to identify and categorize contextual public spaces and public realm, specifically to the small towns situation;
  • to identify the planning and design process, recognize limitations and develop / generate an integrated methodology (and tools) suitable for improving and better integrating public spaces as key elements in city planning and design process.

The research follows a qualitative case study method. As confirmed by Carmona (2014) and Graot (2002) mixing methods based on case study method is better to achieve 'what works' especially in a real life context. 



In conclusion, this research will closely examine and contextualize working public spaces in a developing nation and highlight on a methodology for integrating them in planning and design for sustainable urban development.



[1] According to the Un World urbanization prospects(2014), there are 7.3 billion people in the world now which is expected to become 9.7 billion by the year 2050.

[2] Currently the 13th most populous country in the world. (UN world population Prospects (2015: P 4)) 


This research is funded by:

The ARES - CCD scholarship (within the framework of the research projects for development (PRD2013))

Selected publications
Wuhib, Darik Zebenigus - PUBLIC SPACE PLANNING & DESIGNING FOR SMALL TOWNS - poster presentation on  The 2016 3rd Doctoral Seminar on Sustainability Research in the Built Environment (DS2BE 2016).
Key references
1. Carmona M., (2010) Contemporary Public Space: Critique and Classification, Part One: Critique, Journal of Urban Design, 15:1, 123-148,
2. Carmona M., (2014) The Place-shaping Continuum: A Theory of Urban Design Process, Journal of Urban Design, 19:1, 2-36
3. Gehl J. (2011), Life Between Buildings: Using Public Spaces, (Illustrated, Reprinted),Island Press, .
4. Montgomery J., (1998): Making a city: Urbanity, vitality and urban design, Journal of Urban Design, 3:1, 93-116
5. Sternberg E., (2000): An Integrative Theory of Urban Design, Journal of American Planning Association, Vol 66:3, 265-78
6. Stevens, Q. (2014). Public space as lived. In M. Carmona, (Ed.), Explorations in Urban Design: an urban design research primer (pp. 277-286). United Kingdom, UK: Ashgate.