CITIES FOR CHILDREN: THE PLACE OF CHILDREN IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING

The world’s human population has been on the rise despite the finite resources to support the ecosystems. However, the numbers are not evenly distributed, with the urban areas being dense while most rural parts of the world are scarcely populated. The United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs shows that currently 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas with the proportion expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Though the rates of urbanization is not at the same rate across the globe, with North America leading with 82% of its population living in urban areas where as Africa has most of its population in the rural area and only 43% living in urban areas (UN DESA, 2018), their effects on the social development of the population is similar in many ways.

Almost half of the world children population live in urban areas according to UNICEF’s report of the State of the World’s Children, 2012. However, cities are largely designed for adults and cars and not children, (P.Carroll et al 2015). Children unlike adults see an opportunity to play in every situation and not as restricted as the adults would want them to use parks and designated play zones. Children could seize an opportunity to play even along the streets, at the malls, hospitals etc

A child-friendly city is a space that creates a protected environment in which children can participate in organized activities to play, socialize, learn, and express themselves as they rebuild their lives. If cities are such as more child-friendly, this will not only benefit children, but will also benefit the whole community, not only socially, but also economically (through savings in transport costs) and educationally, in raising environmental awareness and opportunities for play. When streets are walkable and safe, we will not necessarily have to drive or accompany children to school and that saves economically and gives the children confidence with the society.

Children’s local environments help shape their level of cognitive development, their social and motor skills and their personal identity; Paul Tranter & Eric Pawson, 2001. Over years in the recent past and in urban set ups, children are closely monitored, closed up indoors and restricted from exploring their environment due to the lack of trust from insecurity and hazards that they parents and guardians could be exposing them to. This type of regulatory practice may help to ‘protect’ children from becoming victims of environmental hazards but has long-term consequences for their social and emotional growth (Karen,M. 2001)

Child inclusion and consideration in planning is well exemplified through the recent market that I witnessed and participated in planning during my study and research time in Canada. The community in Abbotsford has been making efforts to define its food culture by promoting locally and organically produced foods. The Rail District Market under the management of Valley Food and Farm (VFF) Collective that opens every Thursday gives a good example of local food culture definition. The market which is in the Historic Downtown is walkable, easily accessible on bikes and cars, was first opened in summer 2018, through UFV-Geography and Environment students and VFF efforts, as an ‘place making’ approach in planning-reuse of old public spaces through Tactical Urbanism concept. The response has been overwhelming and prompted the aspect of the role of children and youth in the market through the GROWTH project.

On the 13th of June 2019 at the Rail District Market, the Urban Design Studio students under the Departments of Global Development Studies, Geography and Environmental Studies and Graphic Design at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) hosted a Children and Youth Community Market at the weekly Thursday market series in Downtown Abbotsford. This was a prototype of a child friendly space done under the tactical urbanism model. Families with children attended the event overwhelmingly and the children could be seen busy enjoying the activities as the parents did their shopping and thus creating a happy community.

The Valley Food and Farm collective is doing an incredible job through the promotion of local farmers and giving the community (including children and youth) the opportunity to learn about local foods and farming hence food literacy.

In planning for any urban neighbourhood for it to be child-friendly, the following need to be put into consideration;

  • Accessible streets
  • Safe, secure and clean environment
  • All inclusive and high quality public spaces
  • Family friendly housing
  • Children should experience quality, inclusive and participatory education and skills development
  • Children as stakeholders in planning

I highly recommend the participation of children in planning through their involvement in the design of the events and activities based on their views. Considering the child perspective is different.

In principle, what children want in a city is the same as everyone else: safe and clean streets and public spaces; protected sidewalks and bike lanes; access to safe, pleasant and welcoming green and public spaces; clean air to breathe; opportunities for recreation, lingering, wandering and amusement; and a sense of safety and security, both at home and away from home – Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director, UN-Habitat” – Danenberg, R. et al, 2018

From the Urban Designing point of view, Planning and implementation of the Growth, Children and Youth Community market, we able to learn through the challenges and appreciate the tactical urbanism concept of short term actions for long term change. I believe that the seed we planted in the children who attended and enjoyed the market will continue to grow and spread the message further.

Other spaces that I had a chance to look into during my scholarship at UFV included an assessment of public university child friendliness, a case study of The University of Nairobi, in a seminar class; Sustainable Cities-Cities for Children with Prof Cherie. One thing that stood out clear is that there has not been planning to accommodate students and staff who are parents. Many post graduate students, and undergrads too currently have toddlers and young children just as well as the staff. Their productivity at work is affected due to the psychological uneasiness when at times they have no proper arrangement of their children welfare. This poses a question, where is the space for children in planning for sustainable urban development?

Best practices can be borrowed from The University of Manitoba among other places, where the institution has put in place a Campus Children Centre which gives priority to students and staff that need child care at a fee. This is made possible by having the university policy on child care in place and the enabling mechanisms including staff and facilities.

Though not entirely meant to be an early childhood centre, there is the need for the provision of child and parent friendly environment at higher learning institutions such as the University of Nairobi, Kenya, as this will nourish the child’s growth both physically, socially and academically as well as increase the mothers productivity at work place or school based on the current needs and circumstances of working women and learning parent students which should not limit them to achieve their aspirations or be detrimental to the child growth and development

Children at the University of Manitoba Campus Children Centre

Source: The University website, 2019

Children at the Youth and Children Community Market in Abbotsford-BC, June 2019

REFERENCES

  1. Jens A. (2018) Shaping urbanization for children; A handbook on child-responsive urban planning, UNICEF
  2. Karen Malone (2001)Children, Youth and Sustainable Cities; Local Environment, Vol. 6, No. 1, 5–12
  3. Mike,L. & Anthony,G. (2015). Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change 
  4. Paul,T. & Eric,P. (2001)Children’s Access to Local Environments: a case-study of Christchurch, New Zealand, Vol. 6, No. 1, 27–48
  5. Rosa D., Vivian D. & Hans. (2018) The City at Eye Level for Kids, Stipo Publishing
  6. Sheridan B., Roger H., David S., Ximena B. and Alfredo M. (1999)  Cities for Children, Children’s Rights, Poverty and Urban Management, UNICEF, Earthscan UK and USA

4 thoughts on “CITIES FOR CHILDREN: THE PLACE OF CHILDREN IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING

  1. Sr. Scholasticah Nganda says:

    This article is brilliantly written, well researched and thought- provoking. I have enjoyed reading it and feel challenged in my own imagination re the place of children in our cities in Africa.
    Well done Veronica. Go ahead and publish this academic article in a recognized Journal within he academia.
    Scholasticah Nganda (PhD).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond Otieno Abok says:

    This is a very insightful and timely masterpiece, considering urban planning no longer put child space into consideration

    Like

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