Announcing a new project to build the case for more child-friendly cities

What does it mean for a city to take child-friendliness seriously? What makes decision makers put real momentum and energy behind the vision of making the urban environment work better for children and young people? What does it take to move beyond fine words, small pilot projects and one-off participation events?

I am very pleased and honoured to announce that, thanks to a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I will be visiting a half-a-dozen cities in Northern Europe and Canada to get under the skin of this topic. One key goal is to explore the relevance of child-friendly urban planning to urban policy in the UK.

The fellowship will take in four cities – Freiburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Vancouver – that have led the way in putting into practice the maxim of Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, that the child is an indicator species for cities. With these cities, I plan to research tangible evidence of impact, and indicators that help to measure this.

Vauban street

Street in Vauban, Freiburg

Oslo is also included, for two reasons. First, to explore the impact of Norway’s unique laws giving children a voice in municipal urban planning, and second, because of the city’s recent innovative, app-based initiative to involve children in transport planning.

The final city on my list is Calgary. It makes the cut because it is ramping up its engagement in child-friendliness, thanks its participation in the Lawson Foundation-funded play strategy. It is also host of the upcoming International Play Association conference in September (which I plan to attend and speak at).

Skaters outside a municipal building in Vancouver

Skaters outside a municipal building in Vancouver

The funds allow me to spend about a week in each city. I am still finalising my itinerary. However, the Canada leg will definitely be in September to coincide with the IPA conference. The Europe leg is likely to be in early Spring 2018.

In each city, I will be doing a mix of interviews, desk research and site visits. One aim is take a guided tour of one residential neighbourhood in each city, with an 8-year-old child as my guide (taking a leaf out of the book of Enrique’s brother Gil Peñalosa and his campaigning group 8 80 Cities).

I have argued that the impact of the global CFC movement on urban planning so far been limited. In my view, it needs to engage in debates about outcomes and impact as well as rights and participation. It needs to recognize the crucial importance of children’s independent mobility. And it needs to forge links with other progressive urban agendas. Strong partnerships are vital in influencing urban planning systems that are struggling to manage the pressures of globalization and urbanization.

So while I am interested in connecting with play advocates and activists in each city, my priority is to probe the views of civic leaders and influencers: the mayors, senior planners and others whose decisions shape the urban fabric for decades to come. I want to speak to people who have been persuaded of the merits of child-friendly urban planning, and who have insights and lessons to offer the as-yet unconvinced.

Needless to say, I am hugely grateful for the WCMT’s support. I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity, which builds on my ongoing collaboration with global planning consultancy firm Arup around its forthcoming publication Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods.

If you have any ideas or think you can help, do leave a comment or get in touch. Feel free to share this post, and do check out my profile page on the WCMT website.

32 responses to “Announcing a new project to build the case for more child-friendly cities

  1. This is great news Tim. Glad to see there is a Canadian connection too. I love the idea of the 8-year-old guide. I’ve toyed with the idea of being an ’embedded photographer’ with the neighbourhood kids. It will be helpful to bring additional analysis and understanding to issues of mobility. Cheers

  2. This sounds brilliant! Well done. Slightly jealous but very much look forward to hearing more!

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. This sounds great. Tim – we are involved with the New Urbanisms, New Citiizens Team (from a mix of Unis), who have reviewed an established new Village in North Northants. We have incorporated their findings into the new adopted Core Strategy,influencing our policies. They are looking to get involved in the future planning of a garden village which is being planned in the area to ensure that what they discovered can influence the masterplan. Happy to share contacts with you, and the impacts, when we get there. It will be interesting to see what we can do to make this a child friendly village (partic when it is somewhat remote, and where they also want to attract older people as downsizers from local villages, and because facilities in an older persons hosuing scheme could benefit the wider village in the terms of a doctors practice, cafe, gym etc which might not be financially viable without this colocation). Would be happy to involve you if you are interested/able? Amy

    • Amy – thanks for the comment, and apologies for the slow response. I know of this programme through some of the academics involved, including John Horton, Peter Kraftl and Pia Christensen. I would love to hear more about the project, not least because I am involved in a project to produce a play, youth and active living plan for a large new development near Cambridge. Can you drop me an email? My ‘contact’ page here has the details.

  4. This sounds great! I have just finished my PhD thesis about children’s rights and the Scottish Planning system, so would be happy to share insights and be involved if you need any help! This focused on both the process and outcomes of planning, and looked at goings on in Scotland, Wales and examples from other bits of Northern Europe. There are now some proposed changes in Scottish planning that may make it easier for children to get involved, but the missing link is helping planners and politicians understand play. I know some planners now trying to change how they do things in light of this though.


    • Hi Jenny, thanks for the comment and apologies for the slow reply. I would love to hear more about your PhD project. Can you drop me an email? My ‘contact’ page here has the details.

  5. Reblogged this on Mental Flowers and commented:
    This is a great research project, I look forward to following the research and the results.

  6. Tim I had forgotten ahaha excellent project this is! Can’t wait and delighted I may have contributed!

    Robin Sutcliffe Mobile: +44 (0) 7785 704 865 Sent from my iPhone

  7. Oh dear thanks suggested text!

    Robin Sutcliffe Mobile: +44 (0) 7785 704 865 Sent from my iPhone

  8. Wonderful news Tim! Congratulations.

  9. The Dutch are ready doing it. Happiest children in the world. This website explains how:

    FYI Rotterdam isn’t the city to see this in practice, and neither is Amsterdam for that matter.

    • Hi Jim – thanks for the comment, and apologies for the slow reply. Thanks too for the link to David Hembrow’s website – I know of his ‘view from the cycle path’ site which is a great resource.
      It may well be the case that Rotterdam is not the most child-friendly place in the Netherlands (my visits suggest that areas like Den Haag/Riswijk/Delft are probably more attractive for children and families). Of course Rotterdam is a big, complex city, and the politicians there did make the topic a priority for a time, which is the reason I chose it. But if you have examples of other Dutch cities that have taken forward strategic programmes under the ‘banner’ of child-friendly urban planning, I would love to hear about them.

  10. Well done Tim, sounds like an excellent opportunity and interesting research.

    Look forward to hearing your findings, and let me know if I can support in any way.

  11. This is a very interesting project. I wish I could come along.
    You might be interested in what the City of Cambridge, MA has done in regards to parks and playground planning.Please see:City of Cambridge • Healthy Parks and Playgrounds Task Force

    • Hi Rick, thanks for the comment and apologies for the slow reply. What a shame we have not connected before now, as I was in Cambridge in early March! I will follow up your signpost, and will get back in touch if I am in your neck of the woods again.

  12. Good, Tim. Looks to be a useful and interesting piece of work. I think it’s absolutely right that you aim to engage in particular with those with influence/responsibility for urban planning as a whole (taking in, I hope, residential development which certainly in this country is too often a shameful mess) rather than focus simply on play.

    It’s important to get beyond the notion that creating designated areas for play somehow does the job of being child or play friendly: ease of mobility, sense of safety, creating the conditions for the easy, informal sociability across generations is what needs to be achieved.

    Sure we can talk about creating an urban realm fit for eight year olds, and eighty year olds. In the end, we want environments fit for humans. That’s you and me, too – and neither of us are eight or eighty.

    • Hi Bernard, thanks for dropping by. Yes, I will focus on those areas where children spend their everyday lives, which of course means residential neighbourhoods. And of course I agree with your last point. My take on the ‘8-80’ formulation is that it is a vivid provocation: a prompt to ‘stop building cities as if everyone is 30 years old and athletic’ (in the words of Gil Peñalosa).

  13. Exciting stuff. Look forward to hearing all about it.

  14. Reblogged this on PlayGroundology and commented:
    This is great news for children and for adults in search of more evidence-based research that has the potential of informing policy in a number of jurisdictions. Thrilled that Canada is part of the mix and that the work Tim is undertaking will look to measure impacts and outcomes in exploring child-friendly urban planning. Love to be on tour led by eight-year-old kids.

    Nearly two years ago, Halifax was happy to host Tim as he wound up his Canadian tour. We had a great public event pulling in about 200 people on the Victoria Day holiday weekend to hear Tim’s perspective on the relationship between risk and play. His workshop with practitioners helped inspire the introduction of new modalities of play in public spaces which continue to take root. I look forward to reading the results of this research.

  15. Hi Tim – I’ve only just caught up and discovered this news. Congratulations. But more than this, I found a fellowship to be a life changing experience. It is an amazing opportunity and I know that world-wide others will benefit from your fellowship through the sharing of your experiences and findings. Have fun and see you in Calgary!

  16. Hi Tim. Your study is very exciting! Greatly looking forward to all that you will discover and ponder. We in Ithaca, NY are embarking on our own journey to be a more child-friendly city (even working toward a “free range kid” designation from Lenore Skenazy’s group). We’ve got a lot of great things already happening but have a long way to go. Little or no child input to urban planning that I’ve ever heard of here. But we’re working on it all – and looking to other cities for inspiration. Met with folks from Calgary last week at the Vancouver Children and Nature Network conference and are happily plotting to link up and follow in their footsteps and be (formally or informally) Calgary’s (little) sister city in child-friendliness. We have lots of energy but lots to learn. (and directions or resources you too could point us in would be greatly appreciated!) See you in Calgary. (and Ithaca someday??)

    • Thanks for this Rusty, and good to see you here. Also good to see from Playing it Up! that you had a hand in Ithaca Children’s Garden’s Hands-On Nature Anarchy Zone (love the name!) Let’s catch up in Calgary.

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