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Why we need New Year resolutions for our cities

More than ever, this year, the resolutions we are putting finishing touches on are indeed to be a special annual gift by us to ourselves wrapped in the audacity of hope.

By Josephine Malonza

New Year

Globally, the common practice of preparing a list of resolutions on how one plans to make the next twelve months much better and hence happier maybe something we are all taking a little bit more serious since evidently 2020 and 2021 have been slow years to us all, owing to the rude disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than ever, this year, the resolutions we are putting finishing touches on are indeed to be a special annual gift by us to ourselves wrapped in the audacity of hope.

With or without formal resolutions, this is normally seen as a perfect time to dream bigger, looking back to plan ahead, recalculate, realign our own dreams and set new personal targets as we flip the next new page in our individual lives.

Today, I invite us all to take a look at what ways we can collectively act towards better co-existence in our cities. We actually spent more time with others than we spent with ourselves and so this may not be a strange ask as it may sound initially.

Think of the capital city Kigali, any secondary city and/or tertiary city that we get to work in or visit temporarily for work or leisure. This is about the people we meet and interact with on a daily basis. Think about these cities and people alongside the recent debate on climate change (yet another global crisis).

I will extract a few, not so new reflections, from my previous articles here to expand the conversation of embracing New Year resolutions for our cities too.

First, is on sustainable transport means; I have written several pieces on the multifaceted benefits of public transport for our longer trips and non-motorized transport such as biking and walking for our short trips. Public transport in Rwanda is efficient and safe.

The City of Kigali and some secondary cities are already developing safe bike lanes on modern roads. It’s been great to see examples of carpooling; be it families taking shifts to drop and pick a group of kids to and from school, or colleagues agreeing to share one car to commute to and from work. It is good to see that the excuses we make in taking our private cars everywhere we go are getting narrower and narrower. The recent implementation of Imbuga City Walk/Kigali’s first car-free zone is indeed a living testimony that cars do not give us the freedom to move around, on the contrary, their absence does so in a much more fulfilling way.

Secondly, towards more active participation in outdoor recreational activities. The pandemic locked us in our homes and this thought us to escape and do allowed recreational activities in any open spaces or streets within our residential neighborhoods.

Our presence in these neighborhood public spaces adds a lot to their value in being scenes of social life as well as boosters of our health. The use of pocket public spaces also makes them a lot more. When you and I show up to participate in this kind of civic life, in as much as measure allow, we indeed boost the vitality of our cities.

Again, with reference to Kigali’s car-free zone, one thing that has kept me smiling the past 2 months is the increasing count number of people and activities happening there. I have seen an increasing number of families, children playing and youth lingering happily.

When safety measures allow, and we allow ourselves to be part of this urban social life, our cities will be smiling back to us.

Thirdly, and finally for today, is keeping our eyes open and why not cameras focused, on the everyday beauty that our cities display generously.

In a recent regional academic trip with 3rd-year Architecture students at the University of Rwanda, I was mesmerized by how many amazing shots I could take in and in-between Kigali, Musanze, Rubavu, and Huye cities.

More trips to more paces in the pipeline but I have no doubt in my head that amazing and inspiring projects dot every urban and rural place in Rwanda. We are already into the game of taking and sharing selfies, and so if we could keep doing the same in capturing any features of interest in our cities, they would be smiling back at us.

Furthermore, the same way these keen eyes could lead us into amazing spaces and positive vibes, they could also lead us to identify challenges and gaps that ought to be filled towards making our cities better places for us all. I have seen very fruitful debates even on social media of random citizens airing views on challenges with road junctions, signage, traffic jam, walkways, parking, street lighting, pollution, etc. as well as offering suggestions on how could these could be improved. Sure enough, leaders in the respective cities are always coming on board to follow up and report progress on these issues.

This discussion can be expanded to many other points. The call today is to embrace the culture of thinking more beyond the individual, on ways and collective actions that have the potential to support more sustainable, happier, and healthier cities.

Here is a task to us all, while our own personal New Year resolutions are still fresh.

Josephine Malonza is a lecturer at the school of Architecture, University of Rwanda. An architect and urban designer with a keen interest in the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.

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