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Students ‘Hack’ the City’s Public Spaces

Published: Monday, October 1, 2018

A group of students are jountly working on the Making Space for People workshop. One young man has fashioned a pair of spectacle frames out of green and red pipe cleaners, and is wearing them while he works with the group.

Almost fifty students from across Cambridge attended a ‘hackathon’ this weekend to develop new ideas for improving the city’s public and urban spaces.

‘Shape Your City’ was an event hosted by Cambridge City Council and the Greater Cambridge Partnership on Saturday for young people to explore ideas on how to improve urban spaces for future generations. Students (12-19 years old) from a wide range of schools in Cambridge and beyond attended.

The hackathon saw the students visit key public spaces in Cambridge where they worked in teams to come up with ideas on how they would change the space to meet future needs, followed by presentations to a judging panel of Councillors from Cambridge City Council.

Councillor Lewis Herbert, Leader of the Greater Cambridge Partnership Executive Board said: “Young people have views that need to be listened to about their city, not least because they will inherit decisions now being made about future transport and planning priorities.

Councillors will follow up on the main conclusions from Shape Your City, particularly on improvements we can make for younger people travelling about Cambridge, as well as their proposals that will benefit the whole community.”     

Some of the students’ ideas from the day included underground bike parking, using old punts as ‘punt-pots’ for displaying plants and outdoor seating, and owl statues on buildings to scare off pigeons.

The winning team reviewed the Market Square and their suggested new layout including expanding the market into the road space, a new bike route for cyclists, with free Wi-Fi and dedicated space to recharge phones. Revamped stalls would include solar panels, and glow-in-the-dark paint and fairy lights would transform the space for the night-time.

Nicole from the Perse School (Year 11) and part of the winning team said: “I enjoyed meeting new people and learning how to cooperate in a different environment to come up with new ideas.”

Emily from Cottenham Village College (Year 10), also part of the winning team, said: “The day allowed young people to voice their ideas and work together. I am grateful for the opportunity to look at changing certain aspects of the city.”

Councillor Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Environmental Services and City Centre at Cambridge City Council, said: “I was really impressed by the great ideas that came out of the day, especially how they thought about all the different people who use the city. A few striking ideas came out of all the groups, including making the city centre car-fee and more lights, plants and flowers, and murals.”

Councillor Katie Thornburrow, Executive Councillor for Streets and Open Spaces: “The young people got a lot out of the event, but we did too and it challenged our assumptions about what’s important. Again and again they spoke about reducing or removing cars from the city, which is going to help with congestion and pollution and is something we need to take seriously.”

Shape Your City was organised in collaboration with Form the Future CIC and feedback from the event will be fed into the Making Space for People project – a new strategy to create ‘people-centric’ places in Cambridge, enabling increased use of key spaces and routes into and across the city.

The event was part of the initial stages of engagement on creating a new Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) to help guide improvements to the city, which will put people first when identifying future opportunities to improve public spaces and movement flows into and around the city.

Anne Bailey, Co-Founder and Director of Form the Future CIC said: “Events like this hackathon benefit everyone. The young people get an insight into the workings of city planners and can contribute to shaping their local community, while the City Council and GCP get to learn from young people, with their unique perspectives.  We are excited to see which ideas and changes the City Council and GCP may be able to develop and implement, and hope that the passionate young people who took part will pave the way for change.”

More information on the Making Space for People project can be found online: