Our Public Life Champions
Public spaces come alive when everyone participates and contributes. Yet every city, town or neighborhood has someone who goes the extra mile, often unrecognized, to make public life better. As part of Celebrate Public Life we are acknowledging and promoting our local heroes, from a mom who advocates for cleaner air for her children, to a high school student who started their own urban garden.
Have a look below to find out who is getting recognized as a Public Life Champion! Can't find your community or local hero on the list?
Public Life Superpower: Bringing play and joy to neighborhoods for children.
Ever an opportunist and always seeking to activate underutilized resources and serve as a bridge to connect people and systems, in 2017, Rebecca created the Play Captain Initiative. Coined after the Block Captain and Jr. Block Captain roles which are common to Philadelphia, the Play Captain Initiative is a workforce development and civic-engagement initiative with the mission to empower and train teens in leadership, playful learning and facilitation to make the Playstreets, playgrounds and neighborhoods of Philadelphia more playful.
The Play Captains work in some of the most disinvested neighborhoods in Philadelphia where the teens are seen as role models to the younger children and viewed as assets by the adults. In 2021, Rebecca published a book called Yaya Plans a Block Party about the PCI and featuring many of the Play Captains. Also, in 2021, the National Summer Learning Association selected Fab Youth Philly (parent organization) and the Play Captain Initiative as one of their two national awardees. Rebecca’s vision is that one day, when people think about summer in Philadelphia, they think about the Play Captains and teens in red shirts on all 400+ playstreets and at dozens of playgrounds bringing play and joy to their neighborhoods.
Public Life Superpower: Changing young people’s lives through the power of play
Lucy manages four adventure playgrounds in Islington, London. She has worked for and with children on adventure playgrounds for over 20 years. These playgrounds give children the space to be themselves and explore their world. Lucy plays an integral role in making this possible.
Lucy is constantly thinking of inventive new ideas to make play more accessible, exciting, and adaptive. When the pandemic started, she was not discouraged but instead saw an opportunity to find new, unique ways to make play possible for children during lockdown. Giving children the space to play is an essential service; nothing was going to stop them.
Lucy partnered up with Grow East to deliver packages to children so they could grow their own gardens on their window ledges. She worked closely with the Museum of London to deliver play packages across Islington. This project grew into a scheme which supported children and families, all over the capital, with their post-lockdown adventures in the outside world. She also worked with local people, children, artists, and gardeners to transform a local street, 'Freeling Street’, into a vibrant, artistic and green plot. Lucy has embarked on countless projects in the community and nothing, not even a pandemic, will get in her way.
Public Life Superpower: A force for improving the lives of women, children and babies in Istanbul!
Zelal Yalçın is the Social Policy Center Coordinator at Istanbul Planning Agency of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Her work centers on developing new services, spaces, policies for ensuring gender equality. She is a powerhouse for improving the lives of women, children and babies in Istanbul!
Most recently Zelal worked for Yuvamız Istanbul nurseries in Istanbul, which are one of the most important steps for early childhood development. She also works to develop new models to make the city more comfortable for children and parents. Postpartum depression is a risk for all mothers who do not get the right and necessary support. Baby95 house visiting program and Anne Kart (Mommy Card) - a ticketing system that allows women with children up to 4 years to use public transportation systems in Istanbul for free are two main and powerful programs to support new mothers. Guidance and counselling for new mothers and easing access to free transportation could help mothers reach care and support needed in this delicate time period. These are some of many amazing ideas Zelal has helped implement!
Public Life Superpower: Young activist illustrating the story of climate change through a humanized lens
Katia kickstarted “OUR 4°C-ABLE WORLD”, a project that became her ode of gratitude to the performing arts for bridging social issues to the core of humanity. By mobilizing performing arts and illustrating the story of climate change through a humanized lens, Katia was able to direct, produce and write a filmed theatrical play detailing this crisis’ disproportionate effects on marginalized communities. Katia also hosted an art exhibition at K11 MUSEA featuring student and migrant worker art to empower this community and make them feel rightfully respected.Watch the OUR 4°C-ABLE WORLD official film
Public Life Superpower: Leading the youth with efficiency in the right way
Tracey is an entrepreneurial community researcher based in London. She uses her organizational expertise and steadying influence to mentor youth in the urban locale to know that they are better than their environment, no matter the circumstances they are in. Tracey’s keen social awareness has driven her to promote self-healing and the building of enterprises around one’s culture, particularly for young women from lower-income immigrant backgrounds.
In 2021, Tracey decided to utilize her experience and learnings from the NHS to give back to her community. The insights gathered from her time working with the families of mentally afflicted youth helped her see the dire state that members of her community were in. The work at NHS inspired her to add value to her community by creating social brokerage between institutions and her community. With maturity beyond her years, she was able to work with her community by covering research gaps in Medical Scepticism via intimate focus groups, interviews & analysis.
Clara Julia Reich
Public Life Superpower: Applying tactical and analytical methods in creating inclusive environments for the youth
Over the last 2.5 years, Clara has worked with the youth of Hersleb High School in downtown Oslo, Norway. Clara and the team at Nabolagshager ardently work to connect with the youth, map the stakeholders, intimately get to know the place, and co-create long lasting solutions born from research, experimental prototypes, inclusive workshops, and discussions. Notably, Clara helped lead the Youth Researcher Programmer where she mentored the high school students.
Through her genuine care and passion to bring out democratic processes linked to our built environment in the pursuit of fantastic places, she empowered the youth to be the protagonists in their own neighbourhood. The placemaking skills that Clara guided the youth through, transcend this project alone, and afford the youth entrepreneurial skills to better their futures and go after their dreams. By turning the schoolyard into a beautiful and safe place where the students want to be (using light installations, pop-up cafes, building flexible street furniture together, planting berry bushes, programming activities) , and where they can see their opinions put into practice, they have a higher belief in their ability to make change not only in their public space, but for their futures.
Lajla Malikkah Nielsen
Public Life Superpower: Putting young children at the center of public life
Lajla lives with her daughter near a park and playground called Hulgårdsplads. The two of them go there there nearly every day. It’s in a rough neighborhood, with prevalent drug dealing and people living homeless. But Lajla speaks to everyone because she grew up there. She believes in the need to co-exist in public space. Rather than shielding her children from anti-social behavior, she accepted it, realizing that the men drinking beer there every day have a right to be there as much as she did.
But she couldn’t accept the dilapidated play equipment and lack of protection from car noise and pollution as the park is near a highly trafficked street. She contacted local politicians, mobilized other mothers and neighbors to create a petition to improve the playground and the park. Through tireless efforts she gained support of hundreds - youth, neighbors, kindergarten workers and more. She wanted to make public life in her neighborhood better, for her kids and for all the other neighborhood kids. Working with equally engaged city staff, they secured funding for engagement and a visioning exercise to show how the park could become more inclusive, as well as healthier to shield everyone from air pollution.
Public Life Superpower: Empowering Youth
Marcus is a Community Researcher at Centric based in London. He takes a bold and resilient approach to opening doors for the next generation and works specifically with mentoring youth in need. Marcus has an eye for breaking down systemic racism and gives a voice to those who are voiceless. He brings youth into the decision-making process, ensuring that they participate in shaping our public spaces and public life.
In 2020 Marcus utilized his love for his neighborhood, his sense of urgency and duty toward the community, and inherent optimism to bridge the gap between urban planners and residents to come up with valuable ideas to reduce air pollution in Vauxhall, London. Air pollution is more prevalent in areas inhabited by lower-income and BAME communities. He was able to harness local feedback to showcase the environmental neglect many communities are facing and turn that feedback into tangible concepts for reducing air pollution.