Creating Great Public Spaces in Three African Cities Kampala Project

In Africa -like in many other places in the world – public spaces are used for public life, commerce and interaction. However, lack of funds, planning, and maintenance, as well as priority for motorized vehicles, has turned many public spaces into unsafe, unforgiving and unconnected places. In addition, many public spaces are difficult to access, especially for those living in vulnerable situations. This is especially the case for the city of Kampala. We conducted two studies in Kampala that examined public spaces. The first study, conducted in 2014, identified the number of formal parks and open spaces – those spaces recognized by the government. The second study, conducted in 2015, involved a sampling of 10 slums, two for each of Kampala’s five divisions, and identified the informal spaces slum dwellers used for recreation. The findings of the studies, which used a combination of direct observation and focus group discussions, are quite clear. There is a lack of formal public parks and open spaces in the city, particularly in outlying areas and slum settlements. This has led to people using informal spaces that are not protected. And, of those formal spaces that do exist, they are often of poor quality.

As a result of these studies, we identified Lukuli Community Playground as the ideal location to undertake a pilot intervention. Lukuli Playground is in an area with the most need in the city. It is located in a poor community and suburb where the huge recreational needs of local residents are completely neglected, as the sorry state of the park demonstrated.

Lukuli Playground serves 12 Parishes with an approximate population of 409,500. We conducted a community audit of the park in June 2017 and found the following:

• Playground activities: The facility had a playground area, sports field, green space, and paths. There was no children’s play area. The playground was open to all recreation activities although football was the major active recreation activity at the playground followed by netball, volley ball and riding bicycles. In comparison to other playgrounds in Kampala City, the quality of the playground was below average.

• Quality and comfort: There was a lot of litter (small trash) thrown by users, and risky trash (broken glass and sharp stones), which suggested the presence of risky behaviours by some users. The situation was compounded by lack of trash cans in the playground. There were no sitting areas, toilets, water taps, first aid facilities and lighting at the playground. Safety hazards included non-level surfaces, open drains, sharp objects, stray animals, risky litter such as syringes, bushes in some places, rocks and discarded polythene bags.

• Playground: Goal posts were the only equipment available at the site with grass and patches of soil underneath. The playground surface could be described as average with some parts uneven and slanting on one side plus poor drainage. In order to address the critical issues we identified in Lukuli as well as increase the awareness and importance of public spaces we began a pilot project, in collaboration with HealthBridge and funded by UN-Habitat. For this project we used 5 strategies:

Community Engagement

Lukuli playground is unique in that it is actually owned by the community. This meant that our community engagement process needed to be thoughtful and slow in order to ensure full community participation and ownership of the project. We undertook a series of 5 meetings to introduce the idea to the community and ensure the buy-in of community leaders.

The board oversaw the changes to the park, and it is this group that will ensure the sustainability of the overall park by organizing additional fundraising activities, hiring a park manager, and organizing events and activities.

Capacity Building

The main capacity building exercise thus far has been involving Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in the overall process from the very beginning as a way of modelling how a park can be developed through community engagement. We began the project by briefing five KCCA officials, including the Division Mayor, about the overall project. It was at this meeting that we determined a workshop for government officials would not be necessary. They had a good understanding of the need and importance of public spaces. What they lacked was good models for community engagement and it was determined that participating in our process would be more valuable than a workshop. As a result of this meeting, they assigned two KCCA staff from the Landscape Department to be part of the community meetings and one person to be part of the Board of Trustees. This first meeting was important because it ensured we had buy-in from the city, which proved to be important as they provided resources to assist with the park development. A key result from KCCA’s participation has been increased trust among community members and KCCA, which will be important for future projects. In terms of capacity building among the community, it was originally our intention to organize trainings with local residents about maintenance of the space. However, it was felt that this workshop was not necessary as the community began to maintain the space on their own without our intervention. The Board of Trustees has begun organizing cleaning of the facility and has hired a temporary caretaker to maintain the children’s play space. In addition, the sports teams have been organizing litter pick up activities prior to their games, which is proving successful in keeping the groups free of litter.

3. Awareness Raising

Awareness-raising was built into each of the other strategies and was not a specific strategy on its own. We used community meetings and the Minecraft training to explain the importance of public spaces and highlight our study findings about the situation of the parks in Kampala. These activities increased the interest in our project and the interest in public spaces.

It should be noted, however, that almost no awareness-raising was undertaken to promote the children’s playground, and it is already a huge success. In fact the playground was being used before it was completed. Because this is a community with few recreational spaces, the children’s playground has proven to be great at raising awareness among parents and children and will allow us to further identify areas of park improvement with an audience that, thus far, has been under-served by the playground.

Infrastructure Changes

The community’s plans for the park were quite ambitious and it became clear that there would be some projects that would remain incomplete at the end of the project because of lack of funds. The planning process for the development of the park went well with the community. But the actual building of the park encountered some challenges. The community prioritized toilet construction, the need to stop the flooding in the park, and the need to address the rubbish dumping in the park. The initial toilet structure was presented to KCCA and included a basic design that was accessible for people living with disabilities. KCCA required changes to the initial design to include changing rooms, especially for the female playground users, and to expand the number of toilets to meet the needs of the large population that uses the playground. This resulted in a greatly expanded structure. Rather than change course the community decided to continue to build the structure as per KCCA’s requirements. Various service providers were selected from within the community, which helped build community trust and ownership. These service providers supplied building materials, transport services and specialized labour for the project. But, the funds available were not enough to complete the structure. It currently has walls, and a roof, but lacks the toilet facilities inside. For now the changing rooms are being used by visitors engaged in sports activities. However, several improvements were finished including levelling the ground, redesigning the netball court areas, and the work to stop the flooding. The rainy season started in March and initial indications show that the park will be able to withstand the rain and avoid the previous menace of floods. The netball court awaits a portion of grass to mature and will host its first match involving the Uganda Police and community ladies in April, 2018. The children’s playground has been completed and is waiting for the grass to grow. It was busy before it was even finished and it has created an excitement in the community, especially among the children and their parents who sometimes accompany them. Even before the completion of the children’s play space, the immediate result is an estimated 80 children as young as two years are accessing the park per day and in some instances their accompanying parents. For the first time parents feel secure to let their children visit and play at the park in the enclosed children play space. Parents are also now a common feature at this play space giving them a chance to play with their children, stimulate their brains and strengthen parent-child relationships. Rubbish has dramatically reduced in the playground and the community is committed to raising more funds to continue to improve the park.


Policy takes time to implement and this project was one of many activities that Advocates for Public Spaces (APS) is undertaking to improve policy. However, this project on its own could not realistically achieve a policy objective. It has, however, provided APS with an example of a how a park can be developed using a community engagement approach. We plan to use this park as a tool for our future advocacy efforts at both a city level and a national level.

 In addition, our ongoing meetings with KCCA will lead, we believe, to improved policy and policy implementation in the future. KCCA has indicated they are pleased with the process and the outcomes achieved through the project and are interested to see the community process applied to a more informal public space without a clear set of current users. This will be the focus of our next prpject

The pilot project was just the beginning of our activities in this community. We plan to continue working with the Board of Trustees on further improvements and KCCA on policy: A fundraising plan is being developed to complete the structure for toilets and changing rooms after which the project will be launched. The launch of the playground will include media engagement and will be followed by a public awareness campaign in the community. The community has compiled a profile of the park featuring the first national goalkeeper and 2016 African player of the year based in Africa (the current national goalkeeper) who were nurtured in the playground. The profile will be used to approach private sector entities to raise funds for the competition of the structure. APS will be conducting a policy review study to identify public spaces policy gaps and areas where policy can be improved and where new policy is needed.


Because the community owned the playground, our approach required moving slowly to ensure community participation and commitment. The state of the park was appalling and ultimately the project funds were insufficient for such a dilapidated park in a very poor neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the community appreciates the project as a first and important building block and is much more enthusiastic than before about the prospects and use of the facility. The park and community require more partnerships to push the project to completion, and also embark on programmes to increase usability of the park, especially the children’s and netball playgrounds.