Measuring the Immeasurable — A Public Space Profile of Skopje

The United Nations has established a number of key goals and targets in recent years to address the challenges of rapid global urbanization. In addition to the objectives set at the World Summit in New York 2015 and the Habitat III Declaration of the same year, the UN’s 2016 Sustainable Development Goals include SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, a commitment to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030, with universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, especially for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

Despite these commitments, a new pilot project carried out by UNDP in the Municipality of Centar in Skopje has found that the capital city has so far failed to incorporate the UN goals adequately in its urban planning provisions.

The pilot project was tasked with conducting a Public Space Profile of Skopje, exploring an ambitious and innovative approach to assess current practices in public space development and management in Skopje and to develop a profile of the extent and quality of the city’s public spaces.

The pioneering Public Space Profile assessed a wide range of previously unmeasured parameters, including quantitative and qualitative profiling of the institutional, technical and human dimensions of public spaces in Skopje, using publicly available data, cadastre data, innovative GIS-tools and field research. The Profile research and report were developed according to a methodology developed by UN-Habitat for measuring progress in achieving the UN’s SDG 11.7.1.

Analysis of the results and findings of this research has established a sound basis for a number of key recommendations to improve urban planning and inform policy-making on public space development and management.

With a current population of 45,412 in an area of 752 ha, the Municipality of Centar has experienced growing pressures on local government services and urban infrastructure in recent decades, with a resulting decline in quality of life and the loss of public space.

These pressures have led in turn to a dramatic increase in civil initiatives calling for government authorities to take immediate action, especially to tackle the problem of pollution.

Part of the Profile project assessment methodology included detailed monitoring of citizens’ engagement with the urban environment. This meticulous approach, designed by UN-Habitat in collaboration with the Architecture Faculty of the University of Skopje, enabled the project to
identify the needs of different groups, such as young people, the elderly and people with disabilities.

A key aim of the project was to survey the extent and quality of public open spaces in the city. This task proved particularly challenging because the City of Skopje has not developed a clearly defined concept of public space. For this reason, the Profile project undertook an extensive and detailed review of all relevant international documentation on the definition, development, regulation and maintenance of urban public space.

The GIS survey of public space showed that the two sample spaces have a different average share of public spaces, the first one with 38% and the second with 48%. However, both were very different. The first one mostly represented by streets, while the second by green spaces and rest areas. But, the figures do not tell us a lot, where comes the field work, where we were able to go more in-depth and understand the quality of these spaces, and how they are used by the citizens. And the survey identified some worrying inadequacies in Skopje’s urban planning and management practices, including:

  • a lack of separation of public surfaces such as pavements and roads, with poorly managed and hazardous parking.
  • a lack of information about the city’s greenery, parks, squares, children’s playgrounds and sports fields.
  • a lack of capacity in the Municipality of Centar for undertaking detailed and layered GIS surveying for planning future sustainable development.

Additional field research found that urban equipment is uneven in quality and distribution across the city, with a lack of integration, leading to major problems in traffic circulation, pedestrian and cyclist safety, poorly managed waste facilities and parking spaces.

The report of the Profile project highlights the need for the city to incorporate the UN’s SDG 11, prioritizing improved planning and sustainable development of public urban space. Key recommendations include:

  • Incorporation of the goals in the strategies for spatial and urban development of the cities in the Republic of Macedonia;
  • Compliance with the legislation in the field of spatial and urban planning, as well as the landscaping and communal activities; At a local level, recommendations include:
  • Further assessing the existing situation, using modern IT tools to improve the conditions for mapping and analysis as the basis for public space strategies.
  • Establishing mechanisms for monitoring the situation, communicating with citizens, informing, taking actions, in order to provide better public spaces.
  • Training and building central and local capacities to maintain public spaces and improve the quality of urban life.
  • Providing opportunities for greater citizen involvement in decision-making and the creation of sustainable urban policies.

Finally, it is highly recommended to support and to promote the involvement of the academic community as the most prominent advocate of advanced ideas in urban planning policies.

As next steps, we hope to be able to develop this pilot into an initiative to measure the indicator for the whole City of Skopje and then all other cities, but also go step beyond, to develop a training module on urban public spaces planning for municipal councilors, that will capacitate them in adopting better urban plans.

Last but not least, we hope this blog will serve to initiate a debate on measuring this indicator, how other cities are doing? At what level they have set their baselines? And how they are setting their targets? Have there been any other experiences in using this methodology? Looking forward to hearing from as many of you as possible.

For more insights into the process read the entire “Public Spaces Profile Skopje Research report” on Piloting the methodology for measuring the Sustainable Development Goal 11.7.1. Indicator: “Average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex, age and persons with disabilities”, a report prepared by Faculty of Architecture University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje.

You can also head to our previous blog and find out where the initiative came from!

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UNDP used the Skopje Lab platform to partner with the Faculty of Architecture, the Municipality of Center, experts and field researchers to test the methodology for measuring the SDG 11.7.1. Indicator: “Average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex,
age and persons with disabilities”.

The research and piloting has been undertaken as part of the “Measuring the Unmeasured/ Venturing Into the Unknown: How Can We Measure SDG Tier III Indicators?” Cross-Regional Project led by UNDP Regional Hubs in Istanbul, Aman and Bangkok. The project is supported through the UNDP Innovation Facility 2017, which is funded with generous contribution of the Danish Government.

Ognen Marina, Divna Pencic

Measuring the Immeasurable — Sustainable Development Goals and Public Space in Cities

Quiz time!

1: What is the most significant landmark in human history to have occurred in the past decade?

The arguments could go on forever over the answers to this, but future historians will surely include the demographic turning-point that occurred around 2009 — the first time that the number of people living in towns and cities overtook the world’s rural population.

(For bonus points!) It’s not quite as simple as that, of course, since there are major disparities between regions. In Northern America, for example, the urban population had already outnumbered the rural population by the early 20th century.

2: What percentage of the world’s population was urban in 1950 and what percentage is this projected to be by 2050?

The UN’s World Urbanization Prospects 2018 Revision states that 30% of the global population was urban in 1950, projected to reach 68% by 2050.

(For bonus points!) In some areas, the figure is already over 80%. The global urban population in 2018 is 4.2 billion (55%), expected to reach 6.5 billion by 2050. The fastest rates of urbanization by far are occurring in Africa and Asia (especially so in India, China and Nigeria).

These are arresting statistics even in a ‘trivia’ quiz, but no numbers can begin to indicate the complexity of the changes we are living through and the challenges we face as a result of such rapid global urbanization. These changes and challenges include unprecedented demands on resources and services and unprecedented pressures on urban and natural environments. Throughout the world, it has become a pressing priority to adapt to new demands of high-density urban living and to ensure sustainable urban development.

Each town and city faces its own particular challenges — of transportation, pollution, housing, health services, socio-economic inequalities, ageing populations, food security, water resources — and often all of these together.

In Europe, many cities have experienced successive periods of socio-economic growth and decline, industrialization and deindustrialization, unregulated planning and unsustainable building projects. The results are visible today in many fragmented city layouts and in strained urban infrastructure and services.

Such discontinuities are especially pronounced in the city of Skopje — a city that has been haphazardly shaped not only by the effects of the 1963 earthquake and reconstruction but also by major socio-economic and political changes, including unregulated and construction and architectural programmes imposed from above.

The result is a fragmented urban environment and an infrastructure under intense pressure. The citizens of Skopje suffer the consequences of this lack of integrated and inclusive planning every day in the form of extreme levels of pollution, traffic congestion and hazards to pedestrians, housing conditions and costs, infringements on green spaces.

The complex urban environments we live in have immeasurable effects on our lives and wellbeing. They are the places where we experience and develop our cultures. And we depend more and more upon the complex social networks and services that cities provide. And yet most of us have little or no say in the decisions made about planning these spaces.

A new approach is needed for urban planning to meet the new challenges we face and to make sustainable use of the opportunities offered by new technologies. These technologies can not only help develop a more integrated and smart approach to urban planning but can open channels to citizens — to work with the priorities of local communities to ensure a better and sustainable future.

Civil society organizations are increasingly demanding that city governments become more responsive to citizens’ needs in the design and delivery of public services, including those related to urban safety and the use of public space. More participatory and evidence-based public policy development is required to address the needs and priorities of urban residents, especially those on the margins of society.

The results were quite surprising for all of us, and these come in the next blog to be published shortly. Follow us and find out.

Ognen Marina, Divna Pencic

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UNDP used the Skopje Lab platform to partner with the Faculty of Architecture, the Municipality of Center, experts and field researchers to test the methodology for measuring the SDG 11.7.1. Indicator: “Average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex, age and persons with disabilities”.

The research and piloting have been undertaken as part of the “Measuring the Unmeasured/Venturing Into the Unknown: How Can We Measure SDG Tier III Indicators?” Cross-Regional Project led by UNDP Regional Hubs in Istanbul, Aman and Bangkok. The project is supported through the UNDP Innovation Facility 2017, which is funded with a generous contribution of the Danish
Government.

Co-designing the cities of the future, impressions from the Cities2050 conference

“Innovation in the public sector is a trending new wave, one which brings us closer to co-creating with citizens and events such as these are a wonderful opportunity to look at the future of cities, to go beyond several years of planning and engage in meaningful conversations on how to develop strategies and solutions that will best fit the needs of the future citizen.” said Mr. Krzysztof Żuk, Mayor of Lublin as he opened the Miasta 2050 — Cities of the Future conference.

A New Approach to Governance is being tested in the City of Skopje through a User-Centered Design & Innovation Lab

At a time when many countries are facing economic difficulties, government institutions have to look for new ways to sustain and improve public services with fewer resources, while also addressing growing environmental challenges.

To achieve such a challenging endeavor, a number of local governments are giving citizens more decision-making powers to influence and shape the public services they use while encouraging its people to take on a wider variety of responsibilities.

A TEDxSeptemvriskaSesijaSalon success story – The drive behind the newly opened Meraki CoWorking space

Its May the 4th, 2016. Fifteen minutes are between us and the start of the TEDxSeptemvriskaSesijaSalon event “Living a happy life: The challenge of today?”. As any organizer has experienced, this is the “world crisis moment”, where the rush indicates how well you`ll perform and how good of a first impression you will make. Early, untypical for Macedonians in comes this small in posture but very vibrant-and-exuberant man with his oddly suited companion closely following behind.  Soon after he will take over the event. Not by force but with his eloquent and flowing way of speaking, a manifestation of his inner beautiful self.
 
He speaks of meditation, of living life to its fullest and about smiling and having close friends as the premise for a happy life. He is now the spotlight of the event. Even more when he discloses his secret of being a lawyer by profession and a poet by heart.  And yet again, he is on the cutting edge of innovation and making people's lives more fulfilled. More than a year later, as I write, this is how I remember the event. The clear image in my head is this person's charisma and intensity. But why this blog? What is Jaw Ness up to now?
 
 
Well, besides our clear idea to “brag” about a very cool idea that came to our little TEDxSalon event, we`d like to congratulate and learn from this guy. A little bit more about his passionate endeavor to create a revolutionary co-working space in Barcelona, the Meraki Co-working Space, together with one of our exciting expert guests on that very same event, Mrs. Elena Antonovska Edizes.

 

 
This is why we managed to squeeze a couple of questions with both of them.

Jaw Ness's Reflection:

How did you come by visiting TEDxSeptemvriskaSesijaSalon? What was the catch and how did you end up in Skopje at that particular time?
I was coming here for a business meeting and happen to check what events are occurring in Skopje. When I came across the TEDx and the topic, Happiness. I wanted to be counted in and was striving to be invited because the topic completed me.

Your impressions of the event and Skopje, Macedonia?
The event allowed a witnessing of an energy that felt very special in the sense of a common interest among the diverse people, in particular in me despite it allying "foreign" to me since I was a visitor.  It appeared to me that the commonality in the interest towards the subject of happiness was evident by a sense of feeling which I referred to as "special".  So good job for selecting the right crowd for the right topic.

The start of this new journey - Meraki Coworking and the idea behind it?
Of course no matter what the concept, if the people delivering the concept are not doing so the Meraki way, the concept is unimportant, no matter how important it is.
And having Elena joining the team has been a great blessing. My comments on that will be kept limited to referencing a dimension I call Quantum Angel.
To elaborate on the concept: the coworking industry is a growing industry and one that has, in recent years, transformed itself to some degrees, perhaps even evolved itself in the delivery and hosting of appropriate spaces for coworking.  But with the introduction of Meraki Coworking concept, our Meraki Tribe has managed to rocket their collaboration into a field where the industry will have no choice but to pirate their way to catch up with the Meraki vibe at our coworking place. The trinity in perfection that the universe uses as a pillar to bring about infinite forms, we have applied to the industry:  a captivating view, an interior environment and hosting practices. Adopting this trinity of industry perfection model, we`ll set us apart.

What's next for you and the endeavor; your vision?
To use Meraki Coworking as place to promote myself living the Meraki way, all the way, poco poco 😁

Elena Antonovska Edizes
 
You served as an expert guest on the event - What is your perspective on the event and how it went?
It was a great subject and excellent discussion. However, not so on a philosophical level. Maybe more practical, "life living" approach. I deeply feel that we need more of that kind of "touchy & real" subjects. Subjects that can make difference and move people into change.

How did your cooperation come to be? How did you guys decide to work together with Jaw Ness?
Actually, we met there, at your TED event 🙂 We exchanged a few words, and at one moment I found myself in Barcelona for an Eye Gazing Meditation, Yaw Ness was hosting. My trip was without any forecast or plan for any future collaboration. But, Universe works in unexpected ways. So, we stayed in touch. Jaw was persistent in his effort to envision me into the Meraki project as one of the projects we have now. So here we are now. I can say, so far, so good 🙂

What are you doing for the Meraki co-working space right now and when are you planning on going to Spain?
I am already in Spain. The first idea for me was to be Staff Supervisor & Coach, however, this idea quickly has transformed into a Project Director for Meraki Coworking.At the moment I am fulfilling both job descriptions. How things will unfold we shall see. It will be interesting, dynamic and very busy, I am sure.

Your vision for the working space from your work perspective
Meraki has a lot in common with my practice. It is a co-working space, but at the same time, Meraki will offer a holistic, healthy & creative approach to our clients. Carefree and yet inspirational and appealing in order to create more productive work environment. And this is what makes us unique. Combination of the igniting spirit and dedicated work is the future of the successful businesses. Very familiar for me. Having said that, you can tap into my vision of Meraki. To fill the world with inspiration, creativity and success, Meraki way.

And now, for the both of them:
What would you like to see as a subject for a TEDxSalon event in Skopje again and when should we expect you?

Elena`s suggested topics: The topic I suggest is the topic that is universal and your platform in Skopje would be a wonderful place to see such an event. Hmm, when you should expect us - well as soon as we get settled with Meraki I suppose.
And what would be the subject... "Spirituality in business - Kindness in practice" maybe.
Jaw's-  Suggested topics:
1. What is a holistic approach to designing a socially responsible and sustainable small to mid-size organization
2. Effect of Sufi Poetry of Rumi to the objectives of meditations and ultra ego experience as an opportunity encapsulated in a given moment.
 
We thank both Jaw and Elena for taking the time to share their story and work in progress with us. As always, we’d love to hear and redirect any questions from our community towards Jaw and Elena. And last but not least, this is just a small example of what a TEDx event can achieve - sparking inspiration, conversation and as in this case, an entire business concept and implementation.
 
You can find their personal LinkedIn profiles here:
 
And here’s a link to the Meraki Co-working space if you are ever in Barcelona or just generally curious.