Almost Metaphorical Public Spaces

How often do we ever feel like meeting with people or friends, not inside a restaurant, bar, pub or cafeteria, but at a green open-air public space where we can have inner peace of mind, look at a blue sky, smell the fresh air, surrounded by happy kids and couples running around and playing their own games?

These are places where I wish to go whenever I feel like having neither tea nor coffee nor beer, whenever I am fade up by the noisy music that is common in cafeterias and bars, or whenever I want to relieve myself from the depressing and chaotic city life. Living in a city, with all its boring routine works and hustles, could be quite challenging.

One of the qualities of a good city is the availability of adequate public spaces which can be used by its communities for recreation, morning or evening exercise, communication, cultural festivals, playground, or just for sitting around and calmly enjoying a fresh air hypnotized by a beautiful green scene or people just walking around.

Such open public spaces might seem of lesser importance for rural dwellers, as they can just walk out of their huts and enjoy the view of the mountains. Or walk around their green fields without going far, but for those who live in the urban areas, it is as important as the basic requirements that we need for a happy life.

With the rapid development and expansion of cities these days, urban life has become redundant and depressing, and recreation or enjoyment has not always been without a hefty price tag.

People think they are having a good time simply because they are in a cafeteria and having a cup of coffee, macchiato or other hot drinks. Or it maybe because they are sitting in a bar and drinking beer, relieving their minds of reality, sometimes by going as far as smoking hookah or chewing khat. And if this is not enough, further “enjoyment” can be achieved by going to the cinema or watching a theatre. The 21st century has added yet another mode of recreation, the internet.

All these pastimes are services provided by others, which is why they only come for a price.

But what about for those that do not have any appetite or money for such leisurely activities? Where will they go to relax?

In our capital city of Addis Abeba, one can hardly find places like Meskel Square, Jan Meda or the Ethio-Cuba Friendship Memorial Park, where youth and elders can run around, play soccer, exercise, ride a bike or just sit around and have a conversation with their friends.

Meskel Square, though located at the centre of the capital, and is shaped like an amphitheatre, has not even been carefully maintained nor does it have a green area with benches or exercising tools. It is not at all attractive nor does it smell normal most of the time. But people still go there to relax every morning and evening because they do not have any other option. It is common to see open areas which can be used for public space either poorly handled and full of garbage or surrounded by fences, reserved for the future construction of buildings.

In the modern world, it is common to see public spaces full of appropriately trimmed green grass, artistic statues, narrow eco-friendly sidewalks, benches and sporting materials. Such spaces are usually given special attention by those that deal with urban architectural planning.

When local governments and city planners decide on an area that is to be used as a public space, they consider the comfort, cleanliness, aesthetics, safety, sociability, accessibility and the kind of activities that will take place there.

Such well designed public spaces have major health, educational, environmental and economic benefits. That is, by providing a healthy natural environment, it can reduce stress levels and increase happiness. By attracting youth, it can indirectly influence them to gradually abandon their bad habits like consuming alcohol and khat on a daily basis.

In public places, youth can informally learn to bike, communicate, play soccer and other important outdoor skills. It increases the image of a city by reducing pollution and protects biodiversity. It can generate income by attracting tourists and local investments.

Should all these benefits be ignored?

Along with the increasing number of housing projects and economic activities, the government and responsible bodies should give a primary focus to manage the already available public spaces in a modern way and to create new ones that help Addis Abeba meet the standards of an international city.

By Tsegazeab Shishaye
 Tsegazeab Shishaye ( is an electrical engineer by profession and is interested in social issues, Ethiopian history, science and issues that aim at changing the sequel.

Published on Aug 26,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 904]



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