27 February 2023, Nairobi. – UN-Habitat’s Sister Neighborhoods program is an initiative aimed at fostering youth empowerment and capacity building in impoverished communities worldwide. The program seeks to achieve these objectives through knowledge exchange programs which promote job training and arts and culture. By doing so, it advances the programme goals but also supports the overarching objectives of the World Urban Pavilion. The latter initiative seeks to improve urban environments globally by promoting capacity building in governance and decision-making processes in communities.
Established during the Year of Creative Economy, two neighborhoods became sisters – the Mathare informal settlements and the Regent Park community. Mathare slums, located in the outskirts of the Nairobi city, is home to more than 200,000 people in which children and youth aged 25 years and below constitute 41% of the total population. With the high population density of the area, inadequate basic amenities, unemployment and lack of access to quality education are some of the challenges faced by the Mathare community with youth being the most vulnerable.
Regent Park is a culturally diverse neighborhood located in downtown Toronto, Canada, that has historically faced economic challenges resulting in a high poverty rate. Originally built in the 1940s as public housing, the community has undergone significant revitalization efforts in recent years. Regent Park is home to a large number of immigrants, with a significant population from East and South Asia, and is also a hub for Toronto’s Indigenous community. According to the 2016 Canadian Census, the population of Regent Park was 10,463, with a median age of 36.4 years, a median household income of $43,912, and 45% of the population identified as a visible minority. While poverty rates are still relatively high, the community has made progress in recent years, with many residents able to access new opportunities for education, employment, and community engagement.
Sister Neighbourhoods has supported the virtual exchange of knowledge on the Creative Industries in the digital space. On World Creativity and Innovation Day 2021, UN-Habitat held a joint virtual concert in the Mathare informal settlement and Regent Park, Toronto linking the two communities globally. The concert provided a platform for music and visual artists to share their work virtually while as well learn from one another how to advance creative industries. Sister Neighbourhoods also supports livelihood programmes such as the Upcycling Centre (Mathare) which promotes recycling and repurposing of plastics and the sharing of knowledge between practitioners.
Stemming from this, youth in the informal settlements were recognized for their mural “Girls and Planes” mural, which won a special award in the #DigitalArt4Climatechange competition, announced during COP26. Murals were identified as a way to engage marginalized communities, create awareness and raise concerns. A special focus was made on young women artists and addressing the challenges they face through art. The programme also supports the SDG Initiative’s Urban Monitoring Framework through data collection and mapping an activity that was facilitated in the Mombasa and Mathare respectively. This builds on the mapping work done by youth in Mathare during the pandemic, where a youth-led public health response was supported by the mapping of real time data on infrastructure and social systems.