Creative transformation of urban waste to design a cleaner and more ecological city

Published: 12 Jun 2024
Adaptation Success Stories
Creative transformation of urban waste to design a cleaner and more ecological city

A creative waste reuse workshop proposes a sustainable and ecological alternative to revitalize urban spaces in Dakar with furniture created from municipal waste.

Mamadou holds the camera, looking for the perfect angle to capture the scene. On the other side of the lens, André and Corinne look into each other's eyes and smile, aware of the photographer's presence and still nervous after the ceremony. The married couple walks hand in hand towards the swings as children swarm around them. Meanwhile, Mamadou captures this colorful scene to complete the report. The couple just said "I do" at the Dakar Town Hall and pose in front of the camera to seal the moment. They had planned to do the photo shoot in the garden adjacent to the town hall, but they hadn't anticipated the new play installation they discover by chance during the photo session. "We love this garden and that's why we've reserved the outdoor space of the Town Hall for the reception and the cocktail. Dakar needs more spaces like this one. There are many children in the city and among the guests; they're going to have fun with the swings," adds Corinne.
The couple is unaware that the set used for their wedding photo shoot was made from urban waste that was piled up and collecting dust in a municipal depot until last week. Broken streetlights, deteriorated tires, and other unusable metal elements make up the new play area at the Dakar Town Hall. This, recently installed metal first prototype was created, to revitalize the 55 empty and unused urban spaces. The area was identified by the Department of Urban Planning and Infrastructure to redesign and energize the public spaces of this city.
  The construction phase of the swings © Marta Moreiras
This initiative emerged following the development of the ‘’Dakar Local Climate and Energy Plan’’, supported by the EU and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors for Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA). CoM SSA  is a major catalyst for local climate action in the region, with political commitment from over 370 local governments. The Dakar region is one of the most populated areas of Senegal. Its demographic growth has been explosive in past years. As an example, the population of the city, which was 400,000 in the 1970s, has quadrupled in the last 20 year due to rural exodus, according to UN Habitat.

Waste production grows proportionally with the population, and today Dakar produces 1.7 million tons of waste per year, according to the National Integrated Waste Management Company of Senegal (SONAGED, for its acronym in French). Unchecked urbanisation, congestion, and illegal dumping have a degrading impact on the environment as well as the population's health. For this reason, local administrations promote a model change with a circular economy approach that optimizes existing resources and reuses recyclable materials.

"There is a double benefit, both environmental and economic. On one hand, we can reduce waste, and on the other, we reduce costs. Dakar has a significant deficit in urban furniture; we need benches, trash bins, and playgrounds. We need to equip the city's public spaces and importing furniture is extremely expensive, so we are looking for other alternatives," says Cheikh Oumar El Foutiyou Ba, director of technical services in Dakar Town Hall and head of infrastructure and maintenance. "Dakar is in a full transition to clean energy, and we are adopting a purely ecological approach. Waste recovery is among our priorities. All the actions we are currently undertaking aim to make us a more resilient and environmentally friendly city," he adds.

Waste production is one of the main contributors to CO2 emissions, so furnishing empty spaces with recycled urban waste is not a trivial matter but a logical and well-thought-out proposal that emerges as a sustainable and creative alternative to address a latent problem. Moreover, this approach is aligned with the objectives of CoM SSA, including supporting urban infrastructure projects to mitigate the impact of climate change.

"CoM SSA has allowed us to conduct a preliminary study to measure the level of greenhouse gas emissions. We discovered that Dakar's public lighting system is the main cause of the city's CO2 emissions. Thus, the relamping program was born, proposing the replacement of 25,000 sodium lamps with low-consumption or LED lights to achieve energy efficiency. This program has not only reduced the bill and energy consumption but also the volume of the greenhouse gas emissions," says El Hadji Ibrahim Ndiaye, CoM SSA focal point for Dakar. "Dakar's challenges are multiple from the perspective of adaptation, mitigation, or access to energy," he points out. "The city is located on a peninsula jutting into the ocean, making us vulnerable to coastal erosion, sea encroachment, wind erosion, and salinity, elements that contribute to deteriorate urban infrastructure rapidly. In a short time, we have replaced a significant number of streetlights that were very deteriorated, and all that furniture ends up piled up in a depot, becoming waste and presenting a problem for us," Ndiaye points out.
 Reused materials used to make the infrastructure ©  Sylvain Cherkaoui
"Where some people only see waste, we see resources," emphasizes Manuel Polanco Pérez-Llantada, architect and co-founder of the Basurama. "It's a matter of vision. There are many reasons to try to give a second life to accumulated materials in the Town Hall. We are at a point in history where resources are running out, and we need to start moving towards a more proactive outlook, thinking that everything around us can be reused," he explains. "One of our members was living in Dakar at the time and noticed that the streetlights were being replaced. He saw it as an opportunity to create a proposal and work with this material as we had done on other occasions."

Basurama is an artist collective created in 2001 by a group of friends and architecture students in Madrid. The entity was born with the idea of creating new projects and promoting creative recycling contests with residual materials. "We are interested in everything related to art, architecture, design, participation, public space, and working with communities," adds the trainer and creator of the proposal. "On one hand, Dakar has many empty spaces, and on the other, they have a large stock of materials to work with. We see huge potential here." The proposal was born to conduct a creative workshop for Dakar artisans to valorize the local resources and create functional and recreational urban furniture from waste. "The goal is to equip a group of professionals with tools and techniques to develop a working methodology for recycling residual materials and energizing the public spaces of the city," he reflects.

A group of welders, carpenters, and other technical profiles from Dakar attended a week-long training that allowed them to create the first prototype from municipal waste. "I've been working for the Town Hall maintenance services for 15 years, and this is the first training I've ever done," says carpenter Moussa Diop. "The waste recovery workshop awakened my creativity. I can't stop imagining designs made with wasted materials to equip the city's spaces. This experience has opened my eyes and now I have a lot of new ideas," he declares enthusiastically. "It's satisfying to walk past the Town Hall swing and see the number of children playing and bringing the space to life.  The workshop has been a great experience for us. Now, we just need the proper tools to make more prototypes; the ideas and materials are already there," he adds.

It's an innovative and interesting approach," says Ba. "Our priority is to develop and equip the city's empty spaces to improve residents' quality of life. Basurama's proposal offers great advantages: we can reduce waste, free up warehouse space, and provide urban furniture for underused spaces. In this way, we reduce infrastructure costs by recycling the materials we have available," he stresses. "Our plan now is to develop gardens and recreational spaces in the areas we've identified. This proposal comes at the right time, addressing an urgent need with a sustainable solution. We will use recycled materials to furnish these areas, but this is just the beginning. Have you seen the Town Hall garden? It used to be empty, but now children are lining up to swing and play. We've transformed a lifeless urban space into a place for meeting, recreation, and celebration," Ba reiterates.
Mamadou uses the last rays of light to finish the report, directing the couple around the play structure, looking for the perfect shot. Children climb the bars and swing, trying to touch the sky. Corinne and André might have dreamed of wedding photos in front of a palace or refined gardens. Nevertheless, they never imagined they'd be photographed by a structure made from urban waste and old tires, giving their moment a unique and special touch every couple wishes to achieve.
More about this initiative: here


This article was written by Marta Moreiras, as part of the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) initiative. 

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