Inclusive public space : young people's use and perception of the public realm in Accra, Ghana

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The thesis examines power dynamics behind young people's perceptions and use of urban spaces in two neighbourhoods of Accra (Ghana), and proposes guidelines for spatial planning and urban design to remedy key spatial injustices. Like many African cities, Accra has a very young population and high rates of under-employment among young people, demographics often associated with societal instability and increased risk for civil conflict. Additionally, young people are persistently excluded from spaces of political, social and cultural decision making. Research into African youth and urbanism is scarce and involves several methodological and theoretical challenges, but it is urgently needed to improve the quality of urban life and the urban environment, and create more inclusive, spatially just cities engendering societal development through better policy-making and urban planning practices. The thesis develops a spatial justice framework hinging on Lefebvrian spatial dialectics to investigate power relations between different spatial actors. It conducts a multi-level empirical investigation, integrating three lines of inquiry corresponding to Lefebvre's spatial triad: (1) on young people's use and perceptions of the public realm (lived space); (2) on collective activities and local power dynamics that produce and manage the public realm (perceived space); (3) on urban policies and planning that organise and structure the public realm (conceived space). This is achieved with a multi-method approach combining different qualitative methods and focusing their tools on these dialectical perspectives of the urban space. The study finds important variations in lived realities and suggests that most youth experience a deep sense of belonging in place, but also that relations with the community and its leadership are complex and often problematic, leading to significant forms of marginalisation. Findings suggest that local power dynamics decisively affect young people's perceptions and use of spaces, and that their lack of voice in spatial planning processes directly influences the urban form and the suitability and availability of spaces to them. The thesis recommends further research into spatial justice issues and methodologies that allow investigating lived experiences of marginalised populations - particularly in Africa. It recommends advanced forms of participation in spatial planning and decision-making processes and firmly promotes a move towards democratisation of urban policy, planning and research to significantly reduce political, traditional or commercial pressures on marginalised populations and lead to more inclusive and sustainable urban development.
Date of Award1 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorAshraf Salama (Supervisor) & Andrew Agapiou (Supervisor)

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