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  • Dr. Jenny Wood, Grant Menzies & Bobby Lee

Child-Friendly Cities

Affording children's freedom to Play in Planning & Design.

"If we accept that there is more to life than existence, work and everyday functioning, and we acknowledge the role ‘playing’ has in our development as individuals and society, then we must recognise that the well-functioning city must be at once play-full and playful. We must work together to provide experiences and outcomes that enrich, not only children's lives, but the lives of everyone in our cities."

2018 marks the first Year of Young People in Scotland, providing an opportunity to capitalise on national attention and address many of the issues surrounding children’s freedom to play and live a healthy lifestyle, particularly in reference to their everyday physical environment.

Children's freedom to play and roam is under threat in the contemporary world, a loss of many accepted places to play has restricted children's movement to a small number of designated places and the domestic realm. Existing, and an ever growing amount of, research evidence has highlighted the disastrous consequences this is having, and will have, on current and future generations of children.

Modern day urban environments are increasingly structured to meet the demands of our ever-busy adult lives. This may provide us some benefits in terms of improved private transport links, and services that are increasingly available to us and when we want them. However, the effect this is having on our mental and physical well-being is increasingly worrying. Paramount to this, is the declining independent freedom of children, and environments that increasingly encourage them to stay indoors, and rely on the help of adults to achieve their own leisure and play activities. For the majority of us, childhood was a time of innocence, playfulness, and reckless abandon, with playing outside the norm. This arguably provided us with the resilience to manage our encounters with the poorly designed urban environments we see today, but what about the current and next generations of children? How does growing up with a largely indoor, supervised, and pressured childhood affect the mental and physical health of our people? At The City of Play, we realise that our current environments are not meeting the rights of children. We see two potential scenarios for the future:

1. We COULD continue to plan with the busy adult in mind, and in the process increase our reliance on motor vehicles; reduce our access to green and natural space; and design according to function rather than the human experience.

Or preferably...

2. We change our focus to see children as both the present and future of our environments: taking into account their playful needs, and prioritising their ability to navigate and connect with their environments independent of adult intervention.

This approach will provide great societal and economic benefits for all. As the esteemed Enrique Peñalosa (Mayor of Bogota, Colombia) contends:

“Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people”

Children have an inherent human right to participate in and enjoy their environments. This need not be an arduous process, but simply requires us to look again at our urban environment and think:

‘What does this do for, and say about our children?’

We propose that all cities in Scotland (and across the world!) commit to becoming child friendly under UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities initiative. Indeed, the play sector have been lobbying for many years to get the authorities in planning to acknowledge and uphold the Child’s right to play and to have their opinions taken seriously, as enshrined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

In a very welcome response, The Scottish Government’s Planning and Architecture Division have recently published ‘People, Places and Planning: A Consultation on the Future of the Scottish Planning System’ in which they outline a commitment to consult children and young people on development plans and to encourage local planning authorities to work collaboratively with organisations such as ours to develop and use innovative methods to involve children and young people in planning.

Fortunately, The City of Play has already developed tools to do this meaningfully and, importantly, playfully - keep an eye out for our Pop-Up Playscapes, Imaginative Mapping and Planning for Play in 2017/18!

Our credentials in architecture, planning, research, and community engagement make us ideal partners in guiding communities towards the rights and needs of children and we offer our services to help make this happen. We hope that you will join with us in promoting the child friendly city approach.

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