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Open & Accessible

Why we love activities in public space.

In this blog, we will have a look at the positive effects of combining creative interventions and awareness raising in public space, and what you can do to unfold its inclusive powers.

What do we understand by public space? 

Public space can be defined as …

“an area or place that is open and accessible to all peoples, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. These are public gathering spaces such as plazas, squares and parks. Connecting spaces, such as sidewalks and streets, are also public spaces. In the 21st century, some even consider the virtual spaces available through the internet as a new type of public space that develops interaction and social mixing.”

Public space

Why does it matter?

Because they’re accessible and open, public spaces can play an important role in improving social cohesion. And this can be a central element in the inclusion of migrants. Especially in dense urban areas, public space can make encounters and interaction possible. It’s the place where different communities meet and interact. 

Interact and connect for social cohesion

Public space can also give young people a chance to build something, meet and express themselves. It’s often at football or basketball courts, parks, skate-friendly lanes, or beaches that activity and encounters take place. Many great ideas and projects were born out of these random interactions. It’s a neutral meeting ground for like minds to connect.

build, connect, express together

What makes public spaces ideal for awareness raising?

 Public spaces are … 

1. Open and Accessible 
Open and Accessible

Public spaces are a collective good and thus by nature, open and accessible to everyone. It takes down barriers and promotes the inclusion of all regardless of income, gender, identity … Doing awareness raising activities in public also creates visibility and arouses the curiosity of bystanders. 

2. Neutral meeting points
Neutral Meeting Points

Interventions in public space can establish neutral meeting places for exchange between young migrants and the host communities within a friendly environment. 

3. Creative playgrounds for mutual learning
Playgrounds for Mutual Learning

Each person has unique abilities and skills. Public space is where these different talents can meet and inspire each other. You can learn from each other or just receive appreciation.

4. Perception changers 
Perception Changers

Changing your perception of a person requires meeting that person. Changing your attitude about a practice requires trying it first. By creating activities in public space and not behind closed doors, you make these unexpected encounters and new experiences possible.

These four key characteristics combined make public spaces ideal places for initiating activities, which promote youth engagement and social cohesion. They further allow for participation and eventually create a sense of belonging. 

How IOM uses public space in its interventions?

In 2019, IOM has set out to promote new inclusive activities for addressing social cohesion and youth integration in communities across West and Central Africa.

Street Art Together is a great example of how to engage young people through the universal language of creativity. By painting and designing selected murals within larger settlements, this intervention empowered migrants to engage with and to contribute to their host communities. Together, they explored ways of transforming existing public space and thus producing a shared space. This enabled the participants to take on a positive stance of togetherness and joint action. Since the pilot-projects in Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania and Ghana, the initiative has proven to foster a sense of belonging and acceptance without imposing a specific meaning or message on the participants. 

Youth Take Over

Youth Take Over empowers young people to take ownership by self-organising youth activities. In The Gambia, IOM runs two Migration Information Centres, so-called MICs within existing youth centres. To keep these MICs vibrant, IOM explored new activities adapted to youths’ aspirations and needs. The Youth Take Over approach challenges the conventional community consultation (Q&A) by enabling local youth to organise activities within the youth centres by themselves. It empowers young people, activates their creative potential and establishes a sense of ownership. Furthermore, it helped us to identify the potential and the limitations of the MICs.


Playground is an open-air sports project using basketball as a vector for social change. In popular areas in Ghana, Senegal and The Gambia, IOM renovated existing public basketball courts. Through local partnerships with sports associations around the fields, youth can access safe, inclusive (girls and boys, nationals and migrants) and free sports activities. The courts are meeting places where youth empowerment and positive interaction takes place. 

Now, that you have learned about why we love activities in public space, we hope we ignited a little fire in you. If you are motivated to try out some of those public interventions by yourself. Please, check out our step-by-step tutorials for organising your own Youth Take Over or building and outdoor gym in the tools section. 

All the activities mentioned above were developed and funded through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative. This article was first written by Simon Meienberg, who also made the pictures and illustrations. 


Street Art Together
Mobile Cinema

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