Ugly Spots: co-creation of public place


  • Lack of ambition
  • Lack of power


  • Cocreation of public space


  • Money, ownership


Problems and challenges

Public space is the space of and for the community, a space belonging to everyone and managed by the community. Over the past decades many cities and municipalities (guided by leading examples in Barcelona and Lyon) have set inspiring example of how a systematic policy of redevelopment of public space can reverse urban decay and how inhabitants can be made proud of their town or city again.

While there is attention for beautiful spots, squares, parks, areas of natural beauty and riverbanks, there remain many small public places that have an unpleasant or dreary appearance and cannot be used by the population in a correct, meaningful way. These ‘ugly spots’ usually never are included in spatial development initiatives, although minor but smart interventions would be sufficient to make them useful again.

A first challenge is that the smaller and rural municipalities lack money or fail to attract major planning agencies/experts to help them dealing with these challenges. A second challenge is that there is a difference between what government officials, elected politicians and urban planners define as “a problem”, “an ugly spot” or even “a valid solution” and how citizens living in that neighbourhood define it. A third challenge is the perceived high cost for maintaining such areas after its refurbishment.

The ‘Ugly Spots’ project adopts an approach where co-design of public is done by citizens, public agencies, students and experts. Crowd-sourcing is used both in the problem definition phase, the policy prioritisation phase, the designing phase as well as during the implementation.

The approach of the Ugly Spots addresses three challenges:
  1. How to improve live and spatial quality of rural and semi-urban areas with limited financial resources
  2. How to increase involvement and empowerment of communities in the design and maintenance of the public domain
  3. How to jointly involve education and research (skills), local government (knowledge of terrain) and citizens/communities (involvement) to address societal challenges


The ‘Ugly Spot’ project has four aims:

  • To increase the participation of neighbourhoods and communities in improving the public domain
  • To identify ‘Ugly Spots’ in a municipality and start a policy-setting and co-design process.
  • To test new approaches of public involvement in policy agenda-setting, design and implementation
  • To improve the quality of public spaces in rural and urban areas
The project involves a cross-sectorial co-operation between region, municipality and citizen about spatial planning and neighborhood development, social media and communication, participation, cooperation government and education.

The project is innovative in four ways:

  • New approach in Flanders where this kind of participation not yet has been tested before
  • Use of CAA/co-design methodology in its most visible form (organisation public domain)
  • Use of co-design (identification items by general public, design solution by experts, feedback with general public) as method for policy-formulation
  • Using public debate on public space to trigger identity and personal involvement of target groups in their (rural) neighbourhood


  • Differences in the role of local government in spatial planning
  • A different tradition in cooperation between universities and local governments
  • Financial constraints
  • A limited experience in co-design and co-production initiatives between government and citizens, potentially leading to lack of trust, poor expectation management and a tendency of governments to ‘take over’
  • Internal opposition of spatial planning officials, as their expertise and policies are challenged or their major planning has to be changed


  • Development of online tools, with links to GIS system and social media
  • Communication instruments to convince target groups to participate, convince them to use of web participation tools
  • Checklists supporting the assessment by international and independent team designers and architects of spots
  • An overview of different visual tools that help to communicate the Ugly Spot ideas to a wider audience
  • An overview of methodologies used and reviewed