Category Archives: Child-friendliness

Antwerp’s Play Space Web: smart, child-friendly neighbourhood planning in action

When it comes to making Antwerp more playful and child-friendly, Wim Seghers is the man with a plan. His role is to develop the city’s playgrounds. But his award-winning approach is to start not with the play space, but with the neighbourhood beyond, making full use of Antwerp’s world-class data in the process.

Wim – my host for the first leg of my European study tour of child-friendly urban planning – explained to me last week how his city’s ‘play space web’ (‘speelweefselplan’ in Dutch) approach works.

It starts with the 60 or so neighbourhoods that Antwerp’s 500,000+ inhabitants live in. These neighbourhoods are well-defined and well-understood by residents, officials and politicians alike. For children in particular, the neighbourhood is much more concrete than the city as a whole (as I saw in my conversation with a group of 11-year-olds in Kleine Muze school, located in a diverse, inner city area of the city).

Whiteboard showing children's views about their Antwerp neighbourhood

Children’s views about their Antwerp neighbourhood

Hence these neighbourhoods are also at the heart of city planning and service delivery, supported by a vast, user-friendly open databank and a skilled data analysis team.

The importance of this democratic municipal resource cannot be overstated: in Wim’s own words, it was a game-changer for the city’s approach. It means they can start by drawing up a kind of masterplan for the neighbourhood, including the parks, playgrounds, public spaces, sports facilities and schools, and also the cafés, shopping and other key features.

Play space web for one Antwerp neighbourhood

Play space web for one Antwerp neighbourhood

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Studying child-friendly cities, Northern European style

This post shares news of the second and final leg of my Churchill Fellowship study tour, which starts on Monday 26 Feb. In the following four weeks the tour will take me to Antwerp, Ghent, Rotterdam, Oslo and Freiburg (dates below).

Along the way I will meet decision-makers, municipality officials and partner agencies to find out more about each city’s efforts to make their streets, parks and public spaces more child-friendly, and to make it easier for children to travel around their neighbourhoods and the city beyond.

I also plan to gain some insights into children’s own experiences of the neighbourhoods where they live and play.

Playful public space, Vauban, Freiburg

Playful public space, Vauban, Freiburg

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New Arup report places children at the heart of urban planning

Cover of Cities Alive: Designing for Urban ChildhoodsA new report from planning and built environment firm Arup argues that children should be central to good urban planning and design around the world.

Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods takes its cue from the oft-quoted maxim of Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa that the child is an indicator species for cities. Part of Arup’s Cities Alive series of publications, it shows that child-friendly urban planning is about much more than providing playgrounds. Rather, it is part and parcel of making cities more livable, sustainable and successful for all citizens. Continue reading

Could street play hold the key to creating more sustainable, livable cities?

This week marked a milestone in the UK street play movement, with the publication of three new reports.

The first is an evaluation report by the University of Bristol [pdf link], published by Play England, which looked mainly at the health outcomes for children. The second is a report [pdf link] from Playing Out, the Bristol-based national hub for street play, of a survey of people directly involved in street play sessions. The third, written by me [pdf link] and also published by Play England, explores the issues around taking street play initiatives forward in disadvantaged areas.

This blog post from Playing Out gives a helpful overview of the three reports (as well as a flavour of the high level of press interest).

Boy lying on skateboard in street with child cyclist behind

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The child as an indicator species for cities: reflections on Philadelphia

This post starts by sharing an op-ed piece of mine published in the Philadelphia Enquirer last week to coincide with my trip to the city. It is followed by a postscript with reflections on the visit. I’ve also inserted images of some of the parks I saw.

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Imagine you take a time machine trip to 2037. You step out and start to explore your city. What sights and sounds would convince you that the Philly of the future was thriving?

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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). Continue reading

How street play can help save cities from the car

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.

Sun web page screengrab London smog alert children kept inside.

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