Qatar is facing multiple challenges with hosting the 2022 World Cup. One of those issues highlighted by Daniel Altman in Foreign Policy is recreating the atmosphere, the culture that people typically associate with the event. This is difficult to pull off in a country with significant inequality and lack of public spaces.
Climate has been another obvious issue. The Qataris promised to build air-conditioned stadiums, but they may have neglected the fact that much of what’s enjoyable about a World Cup happens outside, in the streets and plazas of the host cities, where people chant, kick balls around, and watch matches on big screens until late at night.
This omission is not surprising. In most of the recently constructed Gulf cities, there’s very little street life to speak of. The fun happens inside private compounds, clubs, restaurants, and hotels. The locals whizz around in expensive cars, and the only people on the streets — especially in the heat of the day — tend to be male migrant workers. Often, they don’t even have the benefit of sidewalks.
The benefits of using public spaces as a mechanism to reduce inequality was the message that Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Columbia and Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, delivered at a panel discussion at New York’s High Line Park—summarized here by Sarah Goodyear for Next City.
If you are looking for the true source of democracy in a society — if you are looking for the places where equity flourishes — you will find it in the public spaces of cities. It is there, in the streets and parks and plazas, where rich and poor meet as equals and participate in civic life together as they do nowhere else.
…Creating public space where people are safe from automobiles, Peñalosa emphasized, is key to creating a more equitable city. What’s remarkable about cities today, he said, is that we consider it normal that citizens’ lives are regularly threatened by, and lost to, motor vehicle traffic. Think about how different cities could be, he said, if they were organized around robust bicycle and transit infrastructure.
Peñalosa showed pictures of some of the high-quality bike infrastructure his administration had built in Bogotá, including a 25-kilometer bicycle route going through poor neighborhoods. Excellent bike infrastructure, he said, sends a message. “It says that a citizen on a $30 bike is as important as one in a $30,000 car.”
The piece ended with the following quotes from Peñalosa and Carter:
“You build out your public spaces in a way that forces good behavior,” Carter said. “That’s what good public space does.”
For both Carter and Peñalosa, the ability for all citizens, regardless of income, to move about the city and enjoy its streets and parks is central to a healthy city and a functional society.
“In every detail a city should reflect that human beings are sacred and that they are equal,” said Peñalosa.
Perhaps Qatar could use the World Cup as a catalyst for creating public spaces with the ultimate benefit being a more equitable, healthy, and functional society.
Tile photo by: Tsutomu Takasu