Recreating cities through citizen engagement

More than 100 people participate in placemaking activities in Senglea, including Malta's pop-up park and bioblitz for urban pollinators and gardening workshop.

The citizen engagement and placemaking project, ReCreate, has provided a new public community space, in the form of a pop-up park, and is working with the communities to improve the quality of open spaces while reconnecting people to nature.

ReCreate aims to build upon the vision of a group of residents from the locality of Senglea, who are actively reimagining their hometown as a greener, more livable space, using arts and gardening as their inspiration.

Through the ReCreate project activities, Ecostack Innovations in collaboration with Senglea Local Council and the Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Enterprise, has developed a pop-up park concept that was placed along the Senglea waterfront. The space lies in front of the monument to Juan B Azopardo on the Senglea Waterfront.

The pop-up park, made of repurposed and recycled pallet wood which was converted into planters and benches, was inaugurated through one of Malta's first-ever BioBlitz events focusing on urban biodiversity on the 22nd of October. Guided by the Ecostack Innovations teams, the BioBlitz participants observed and identified plants, bees and butterflies encountered within the locality's open spaces.

Dr Mario Balzan, Founder at Ecostack Innovations and Senior Lecturer at the Malta College of Arts Science and Technology, stated, "citizen science is all about getting the community involved in studying the natural world around us. One way this can be done is with a BioBlitz, looking for as many kinds of plants and animal species as possible in a given time in a particular place. You'd be surprised by how much wildlife we share our cities with. On, the other hand, pop-up parks represent one possible means to connect people to nature in our dense urban areas.”

Street furniture was put in place in Senglea on the morning of the 22nd October, and children and residents were invited to adorn the area in front of the Juan Azopardo monument with plants and trees, guided by experts and volunteers. This action fosters a sense of ownership over the community-created space. The NGO MOVE converted this space into a temporary playground through the adaptation of popular games, including football, tug-of-war and bocci, which were popular with children of all ages.

Mayor Clive Pulis commented, “through the ReCreate project, of which the Senglea Local Council is a partner, we want to improve the quality of our open spaces and convert them into greener spaces that can be used by children for play activities while also respecting the traditions, and the cultural and historical values we associate with Senglea”.

Placemaking activities were also organised by Dawra Madwarna in Misrah Andrea Debono through the ReCreate project. Dr Sarah Scheiber and Dr Wendy Jo Mifsud, also representing the Department of Spatial Planning and Infrastructure at the University of Malta, brought their expertise on public open spaces and community engagement to the event. Placemaking seeks to engage with communities as a way of testing and understanding what works and what doesn’t so as to transform public spaces into places with and for the residents themselves.

In Senglea, residents who live in the vicinity of Misrah Andrea Debono actively grow food in a large planter, so in response to this, a gardening workshop was held which gave residents information on how to continue looking after their plants and grow new produce in small spaces such as the one they have. Saplings were distributed through the ‘MOVE for Trees’ scheme, a project by NGO MOVE. School children from Senglea Primary School carried out physical activity and donated their kilometres in exchange for trees which are now planted within the locality. There was also a picnic, a mural proposal, the use of citizen science digital applications, street games for kids and adults alike and the painting of street planters with paints sponsored by BETA Paints.

An exhibition of ideas for the area was also on display. This was put together based on the residents’ suggestions which had been provided in a previous workshop organised by Dawra Madwarna. The residents had the opportunity to vote and express their preference for further improvements they wished to see in Misrah Andrea Debono. Additionally, Senglea Community Gardens, a local group set up by artist Isabel Warrington was on site working on a lovely mosaic for the square’s central planter, using tiles recycled from surrounding properties. Special thanks go to the Dawra Madwarna working group and volunteers who voluntarily gave their time to this event.

ReCreate is one of the 18 Citizen Engagement projects from across 14 countries, funded through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology New European Bauhaus Initiative, to develop innovative and collaborative models of initiatives that increase citizen engagement and involve communities in the design of sustainable public spaces that address local challenges. ReCreate is coordinated by Ecostack Innovations in collaboration with Senglea Local Council, Dawra Madwarna and the University of Malta.