Designing Urban Childhoods
“The choices we make in the built environment can help to ensure children are given respect, fair treatment, a healthy life and the best chances of tackling the challenges of tomorrow. By highlighting children’s needs, we will be helping to solve other urban challenges, leading to cities that are better for everyone.”
Director, Global Planning and Cities Leader, Arup (cited in Arup, 2017, p. 7)
Definition of children Based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF, 1989).
of all urban dwellers will be under the age of 18 by 2030 (United Nations, 2014)
of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active as a result of urbanisation (WHO, 2018).
return to society for every US$1 invested in early play-based education, which promotes healthy child development (Carneiro, P. and Heckman, P. , 2017; Arup, 2017).
We are living in the urban age, and according to Alejandro Aravena, architect and Pritzker prize laureate this is great news “because cities hold the prospect of greater opportunity, education and jobs.” Nevertheless, he stresses that “the problem of the scale and speed with which the urbanisation process is taking place has no precedent in human history” (Aravena, 2016 as cited in UNICEF, 2018, p. 12).
By 2030, it is expected that cities will contain 60% of the world’s population (Arup, 2017). Additionally, 60% of all urban inhabitants will be between the age 0 and 17, which is the definition of being a child, according to proceedings from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations, 1989).
There are three different perspectives when dealing with children in the built environment. The first one is the adult’s knowledge of what children need and want in the built environment. Secondly, one must consider the child’s own perspective, and last but not least, the rights of children.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCFC) is the framework for UNICEF’s work. It is comprised of 54 articles “that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.” (UNICEF, 2020) Since 1 January 2020, the UNCRC articles are also incorporated into Swedish law (Government of Sweden, 2020).
Child-responsive Urban Planning
The emerging field of child-friendly and child-responsive urban planning focuses on systematically planning and designing cities that foster children’s development, health, and well-being, improving the potential for independent mobility. This calls for taking a holistic approach, rather than merely providing stand-alone playgrounds, and instead focusing on promoting a multifunctional and intergenerational urban fabric that can be enjoyed equally by families and communities (Arup, 2017).
Children – the Designers of Tomorrow
Children will shape the world of tomorrow, and it is crucial for their development as future designers that we lay the foundation on which they may thrive to ensure a sustainable and resilient urban future for all generations to come. What if we can design the urban realm in such way that it provides common support and freedom for children to get around, and at the same time, facilitates sustainable behaviour, is pedagogical, inclusive and aesthetically pleasing?
Ultimately, the child-friendly city has the potential to function as a “catalyst for urban innovation” (Arup, 2017, p. 7). If cities provide children with everyday freedoms through urban resilience, children will develop into resilient and “climate-smart” citizens with a greater capacity to handle the urban challenges of tomorrow.