Category Archives: Mobility

walking, cycling, public transport, car

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

Still reared in captivity

I originally wrote this article for the Guardian in 2004, on leaving the Children’s Play Council (now Play England). Last weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch prompted me to ask how much the picture it painted has changed in the intervening decade or so. First, I will share the article itself, followed by some reflections.

 

Bred in captivity [2004]

This weekend saw the Big Garden Birdwatch, a nationwide survey that has been organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds since 1979. But I can’t help contemplating a survey of a different species: a Big Outdoor Child Watch.

I know only too well what it would find. Chicks are now pretty much extinct, outside their own nest areas and a shrinking number of poorly maintained reserves. Juveniles, common in the 1970s, declined in numbers throughout the 1980s and are now rarely seen away from their parents, except in impoverished areas. And adolescents, though not yet endangered, are seen as pests and controlled accordingly. In sum, children and young people are fast disappearing from the outdoor environment, even though for most this is their preferred habitat.

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Festive cheer from the land of the free

Could the USA be turning a corner in the global fight to defend children’s right to play? A remarkable pair of legal moves certainly makes it look this way. They add further support for the view that the tide is turning fast in a country with a poor reputation for upholding children’s everyday freedoms.

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The sorry state of neighbourhood design in America: a mother writes

After my last blog post about German children having more everyday freedom than their English peers, Andrea – a German-born woman who now lives in the USA – got in touch to leave a comment. She had some revealing things to say about the differences between her home and adopted countries, and has agreed to let me share them more prominently. She paints a depressing picture of car-dependence and isolation: a stark comparison with her experiences in Germany. Here is her story.

Road near Bailey School, Minnesota.

Woodbury, MN. Source: Strongtowns.org

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German children enjoy far more everyday freedom than their English peers

New research from the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) shows that only a quarter of English primary school children are allowed to walk to school alone – yet in Germany, three quarters are. It is easy to think that the decline in children’s freedom to play out of doors and get around on their own is an inevitable side effect of modern life. That is why international comparisons are so valuable: they can show us how things might be different.

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How child-friendly is Moscow?

Mum and child on bridgeOn my visit to Moscow last week, I witnessed an intriguing sight as I was crossing a bridge near the city centre. A little girl and her mother were walking towards me. As they went past, the girl stooped down to make a snowball, and then she threw it playfully towards her mother. Not very noteworthy, you may think – except that it was minus 6 degrees Centigrade, with a biting wind and eight lanes of Moscow traffic roaring by just metres away from us. You could not have asked for a clearer example of children’s appetite for play, regardless of their circumstances. So how well does Russia’s capital satisfy that appetite – how child-friendly is it?

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What is it like to grow up in Moscow?

Young people on a bench

Image by Edwin Gardner, from Partizan Publik

In a couple of weeks I will be speaking at the Moscow Urban Forum, and I am asking for your help in making the most of this exciting opportunity. I want to find out more about everyday life for Moscow’s children. Can you help me discover what it is like to grow up in the neighbourhoods that the majority of Muscovite families live in?

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