I have been thinking a lot recently about how we can better shape cities, to improve the way in which children can engage with them - creating streets and spaces that are safe and enjoyable.
As with so many urban issues of late, Enrique Peñalosa (Former Mayor of Bogota) has a great quote on this issue which summarises the design approach we could all take. He says that, “children are a kind of indicator species, if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone.”
This point is of course very acute; we have for some time been aware that we must design for the most vulnerable in society, to ensure the inclusiveness of our cities and make them accessible for all. This thinking arguably has not yet extended to children though - as designing for children is not an accepted norm by any stretch.
This idea gets especially interesting to me, however, when we understand that 26% of today’s global population is under the age of 15, and in fact, when you look at developing regions of the world, where most urban growth is happening, 40% of the population is under 15. (UN Population Prospects 2017).
So, if we are truly to shape places for the most vulnerable in society, should we not better understand what child-friendly cities look like, because children are especially vulnerable to their surroundings, yet they have little choice or influence over them.
We, and society as a whole, are influenced by the places in which we live - the design, systems, amenities, and social value of cities directly affect human behaviour. If we want the next generation to thrive, cities need to nurture them, and deliver the conditions that enable children to develop physically, socially, and societally. To me, these are two key areas to focus on.
MOBILITY - easy access to social and sustainable ways to get about, like walking, cycling, and public transport, are key to child-friendly cities. Parents know that children always need to be places - from doctor’s surgeries to sports practice - so delivering quality active, social, and sustainable travel options supports child development - and establishes healthy practices for later in life.
PLAY - personally I think this is so very important. We must make cities more enjoyable, more fun! Cities are inherently serious places, but human beings need to have fun, and here in lies a serious (excuse the pun) disconnect. We have to extend play out of ‘playgrounds’ and weave it in to everyday life - creating opportunities for informal play on streets and in public spaces, so that children can experience cities, and develop diverse social networks.