Public spaces as places for human connection lie at the heart of human well-being

The components of urban systems, from waste management to transport and parks, are interconnected and dynamic. Intervening to create change in any one of these components may impact others, creating systemic change.

The components of urban systems, from waste management to transport and parks, are interconnected and dynamic. Intervening to create change in any one of these components may impact others, creating systemic change. Designing solutions that take these interconnections into account is critical to sustainable development. UNDP Armenia aims to invest in the quality of urban life and change citizens’ behaviour towards one of these components, namely public spaces, and introduce new approaches in participatory green urban development. UNDP’s “Placemaking: urban co-design as a catalyst for change” project include the development of (by “Strelka KB”) the methodology for architectural assessment, Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis and anthropological studies with further studies, placemaking concept development and renovation of at least one identified area.

At this stage, the project has already received the methodology from “Strelka KB”, a Russian urban consulting agency, conducted the architectural assessment, carried out GIS-related data collection and anthropological studies, and is currently waiting for the final analysis of submitted documents by “Strelka KB”, accompanied with the methodology of placemaking concept development. 

By providing a detailed analysis of people, communities, and spaces, anthropology makes an essential contribution to the social mission of the project to form a perspective for sustainable use of emerging public spaces and lay the groundwork for the development of loyal communities around them. Urban anthropology employs a range of qualitative methods within a “classical” field approach, alongside several innovative tools (chatbots, crowdsourced media analysis, machine learning algorithms), provided by digital anthropology. Within the framework of the anthropological study, the project team collected data on residents’ perceptions towards the project pilot park, the Yerevan youth park (former Circular garden.) Study findings illustrated the perception gap between local authorities and citizens towards the park which led us to the understanding that public space design in Yerevan does not always meet the user demand. Not to mention that the current pandemic created the momentum for analyzing city-scale change in the demands towards the urban landscape: before, during COVID-19 and after quarantine. 

The project’s other key partner is the SpinUnit lab, which is responsible for GIS analysis aimed to capture, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data. It can be used as a tool in both the problem-solving and decision-making processes, as well as for the visualization of data in a spatial environment. It helps to determine the location of features and relationships to other features, the density of features, indoor-outdoor activity inside the area of interest, and provide information on how the specific area has changed over time and in what way. Despite comprehensive analysis of the park, the team is also responsible for land-use mapping and functional reading of other public spaces in the city. Not only is it important to map the spaces, but also compare and rank them.

Through this pathway, UNDP pursues processes and patterns that the natural and built environment in and around cities improves liveability and safety, promotes human health and mitigates disease. Social distancing does not mean social isolation: people need to get outside, especially during COVID-19, to run essential errands or for physical and mental health—It has been proven that being in green spaces can significantly reduce cortisol hormones (stress hormone) and raise endorphin levels and dopamine production (both of which may promote “happiness”); green spaces also promote doing physical activity, which can give your brain a boost, improve your self-esteem, reduce stress, and generally improve your quality of life. 

Seems like COVID-19 is relentlessly praying on this, it is anti-urban. It not only runs up against our fundamental desires to interact, but also against the logic of public and semi-public spaces: they are all designed to be occupied. For many urban systems the density is even vital. Can we break the ice and enjoy public spaces again? That’s the question!

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