I am pleased to share a revealing, insightful and inspiring story from my home city. Clare Rogers wanted to make her streets safer for her kids. This goal led her first to organising Playing Out sessions in her own street in North London, then to becoming an advocate for walking, cycling and more child-friendly neighbourhoods.
Clare’s enthusiasm for play street sessions, with their potential to offer a more attractive vision of what residential streets can offer, fits with my own research into the power of the model. But it is her messages for campaigners that resonate most strongly.
Car dominance is a real problem for city-dwellers everywhere, and especially for urban children. But it will not be solved by pitting motorists against cyclists. Instead, we need to shift the focus to building a shared vision for urban neighbourhoods and cities as a whole.
Talking about children helps make this shift. Enrique Peñalosa – recently re-elected mayor of Bogotá – is famous for his maxim (which Clare also highlights) that children are an indicator species for children: if they work for kids, they work for everyone. The converse is also true: cities that do not work for children are not working for anyone.
Mayors around the world recognise that they need to free their cities from car dominance. This month alone, the leading urban planning website Citylab has written about major car-free initiatives in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid. But as these articles – and Claire’s experiences – highlight, not everyone is sold on the idea.
What Clare’s story shows is that seeing cities through the eyes of children is a potent catalyst for change. It motivates people to think about the long-term, and to look beyond their own personal concerns. It underpins the importance of taming traffic and promoting walking and cycling (crucial ingredients of more child-friendly cities). Crucially, it points towards a shared vision of what good cities should look and feel like – not just for children, but for everyone. It is a story that urban planners would do well to heed.