Inclusive spaces: At the intersection of design, commoning, and citizen empowerment

I was in Belfast last week for the conference “Interface to Place: Remaking divisive lines into shared spaces,” which examined potentials for spatial interventions after the removal of the Northern Irish peace walls. I presented a paper which incorporated lessons from my own work about the creation of inclusive spaces, ranging from design considerations to commoning practices.

Closed interface gate in Northumberland Street.
At Bombay Street, the peace wall is up to 8m high and the back gardens are protected from projectiles by grates.
Children living in interface neighborhoods on both sides of peace walls grow up not only with the division in their backyards, but also with a lack of street trees, green space, and adequate spaces to play in.

Building spaces which embody a shared sense of community is an inherently interdisciplinary task which requires the involvement of a diverse group of stakeholders and a sometimes-challenging dialogue process. My talk examined design considerations and citizen empowerment practices which can help enhance the inclusive and collective nature of public spaces with a concentration on the roles of planners, policy-makers, and the public.

My talk explored the following questions:

  • How do design choices such as the placement of seating, the interplay between privacy and openness, and the use of symbols affect spatial practices and the feeling of inclusion in the space?
  • Who can help co-design a space and what does that mean for feelings of ownership, inclusion, and empowerment (as well as the use and acceptance of the design)?
  • What tools and instruments can policy-makers and designers use to involve the public and promote the co-creation of inclusive spaces?

There’s a lot to be done in Belfast on this front!

In Beechfield Street, a school stands in the shadow of a peace wall…
…however, ball games are prohibited.

We were lucky enough to be able to go into an interstitial green space between the peace walls with representatives of the Department of Justice during our site visits. The local children were thrilled to be able to explore this “secret garden” (me too!).

It was a wonderful and inspiring conference. Many thanks again to Neil Galway for the invitation!

**Update: you can now watch a video of this talk (about 24 minutes) here.**

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