Facilitating participatory urban design to transform a neighbourhood park.

COMMUNITY Santa Tere Neighbourhood (MX)   FUNDER Pathy Family Foundation

Challenge Transform an underused neighbourhood public space into a vibrant park sustained by a diverse community.

Outcome  A neighbourhood assessment of needs and opportunities generated a series of community-supported initiatives which culminated in the re-design of the park and a partnership between resident associations and local government.

Services Co-design, Design and implementation of social impact project.

Santa Tere is a working-class neighbourhood in the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. With a considerable population density and only two small parks, the neighbourhood experiences a deficit in green areas per resident. Specifically, the neighbourhood's 0.40m2 of green areas per resident is well below the minimum recommended of 9m2 by the World Health Organization.

On top of that, one of the two only green spaces in the area experienced abandonment, had a disrepaired appearance, and was perceived as unsafe by the neighbours.

The design challenge was two-fold: Transform the park to respond to the needs of neighbours and visitors, and to do so under a model sustained by the community to assure the project’s viability and long term impact.

We decided to use participatory action research (PAR), as well as community-based arts research (CBAR) methods. These would unearth the information we needed to take better decisions for the project's directions, while generating the conditions for community involvement and empowerment.  In other words: as we learned more about the problems, needs, and opportunities for Santa Tere, the residents and neighbours took charge of things and inspired others.


The project, spanning 2 years, generated a series of initiatives led and supported by the community where skill-sharing, mutual support, alternative economies, and the forging of a common vision (the dream of a vibrant park) took place. Namely a community garden, historical walks of the neighbourhood (with thematics ranging from local food to traditional crafts), a film-screening series, and an ephemeral community skill-sharing 'school.'

The project culminated with a Codesign/Redesign plan of the park which was carried out (mostly) by 5-12 year old kids. It identified a series of urban design opportunities, as well as channels for the community to keep involved and in charge of decision-making—these where framed as "commitments" for both the residents and the local government.

This project generated a publication (link below) that contained the tools and methods used for community-led participatory codesign; as well as the detailed proposals, "commitments," and information sustaining these. The local government was receptive to the initiative, and integrated it (and the network of engaged neighbours) into its operations and development plans for the neighbourhood. Moreover, the initiative inspired other collectives, groups, and neighbourhood associations to carry out similar processes.

Recommended readings
[1] scott, christian. (2013) Diagnóstico y Diseno Participativo del Parque José Clemente Orozco en el Barrio de Santa Tere. Accessible here.
[2] Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE). (2003) The Value of Public Space: How high quality parks and public spaces create economic, social and environmental value. Accessible here.
[3] Cook, P. y Blanchet-Cohen, N. (2005) Growing Up in Cities in Canada: Creative Tools for Civic Engagement of Young People. University of Victoria Faculty of Law Publications.
Dobson, C. (2003) The troublemaker’s teaparty a manual for effective citizen action. New Society Publishers.

[5] Driskell, D. (2002) Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth: A Manual for Participation. UNESCO Publishing | Earthscan Publications.