Building an Accessible, Sustainable Waterfront in Addis Ababa

Building an Accessible, Sustainable Waterfront in Addis Ababa


Residents of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, use Minecraft to help shape the renovation of crucial waterfront infrastructure and protect public spaces for public use.

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Building an Accessible, Sustainable Waterfront in Addis Ababa


In 2017, UN-Habitat selected the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, to perform a citywide assessment of public spaces. The organization partnered with the Addis Ababa city Administration Beautification, Parks and Cemetery Development and Administration Authority to complete two assessments of all districts, called woredas, through 2018.

The assessment identified 2,040 public spaces in the city. However, some areas lacked features to serve the public, such as a hilltop school for the blind accessed by an aged, uneven staircase. The assessment also considered the safety perception of certain areas and found that nearly 20% of public spaces were perceived as “not safe.” Given the priorities of improving accessibility and safety (especially for women and girls), the city became a clear choice for site selection.

UN-Habitat and partners then set out to conduct an analysis of urban legislation, by-laws, and plans in Addis Ababa. By understanding the layout of the city, the team aims to create a citywide public space strategy and action plan. This will protect recreational areas for the local population and procure title deeds for public spaces to protect them from illegal encroachment.

Building the Waterfront, Block by Block

The workshops aimed to include a diverse range of local residents, nearly half women. Between July and August 2017, 72 participants attended two Block by Block workshops focused on the Ras Mekonnen-Seba Dereja area. Locals walked around the selected site, noting the decaying staircase and seeing potential for environmental renovation along the waterfront. Nearly 60% of the participants had never used a computer before the workshop.

This kind of workshop helps the community participate in a sustainable environmental situation. The people involved can get more information on how they can keep their environment cleaner, clear, and comfortable for their lives.
— Mohammed Hussein, River and Riversides Development, Addis Ababa City Government

A young woman shares her design proposal for the site. Credit: UN-Habitat

Instead of being a corporate draftsperson, I get to work directly with the community to understand their needs and transform them into meaningful drawings. This has transformed my career and changed my perspective as an architect, especially in managing public and social needs against environment and design.
— Joy Mutai, UN-Habitat


Work around Ras-Mekonnen has progressed significantly. Construction has begun to transform the public space with structurally sound walls, repaved stairs, and a newly leveled open area planned to be closed to motor vehicles on weekends. This revitalized space allows for pedestrians to wander, kids to run around, and sports teams to play.

Public space is everything. We have to have more public space in the city. Addis Ababa is doing a lot, and we are seeing a positive result from our engagement with the city administration.
— Mitiku Woldesenet, UN-Habitat

Leveling the open space will make the final design welcoming to pedestrians. Credit: UN-Habitat