Over the next two weeks, Next City will unroll short profiles of 77 people, places and ideas that have changed cities this year. Together, they make up our 2012 Disruption Index. Forefront subscribers can download the Index in full as a PDF, complete with beautiful designs and graphics by Danni Sinisi. Readers who make a $75 donation to Next City will have a full-color printed copy of the Index mailed to them.
To understand the needs of some of the developing world’s most underserved communities, it helps to have people on the ground. That’s the model of the Kounkuey Design Initiative, a non-profit that partners with low-income communities in places like Nairobi, Casablanca and Haiti to bring about much-needed community improvements. The Initiative’s work emphasizes the creation of what it calls Productive Public Spaces: Projects that transform formerly unusable space into active, productive and sometimes even revenue-generating resources for the community. These projects are devised, built and operated in conjunction with community members to ensure that they’re really needed and beneficial. Often, they fill glaring holes in places that might not otherwise be filled.
Some projects include public sanitation centers, playgrounds, schools and flood control interventions — all relatively simple in scope, but which can have huge impacts on people living in a given community. Among other awards, the Initiative was given an Innovation Challenges Award in 2012 from the Rockefeller Foundation for its online and phone-based initiative to help community members in Nairobi identify, access and improve water infrastructure projects. Through this participatory model, the Kounkuey Design Initiative’s work is not only bringing needed services to communities, but also enabling community members to build on the improvements they themselves have helped to create.
Nate Berg is a writer and journalist covering cities, architecture and urban planning. Nate’s work has been published in a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, NPR, Wired, Metropolis, Fast Company, Dwell, Architect, the Christian Science Monitor, LA Weekly and many others. He is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities and was previously an assistant editor at Planetizen.