Category Archives: Urbanism

Urban design, architecture, planning

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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Making the case for more playful and child-friendly places

It is obvious that children’s play experiences and everyday freedoms are hugely shaped by the places where they live. So anyone who cares about these issues should also be concerned about the qualities of neighbourhoods, towns and cities, and about how they are planned, designed and built.

Child playing on pavement in residential area of Delft

Human habitats are changing fast. In particular, cities are growing and changing faster than ever before – and more and more children are growing up in cities. How should play advocates, and advocates for more child-friendly places, respond to these changes? This post tries to answer that question.

The post brings together some key strands of my thinking over the years on child-friendliness, outcomes and advocacy. It is a very lightly edited version of my response to a discussion on play and the environment that was initiated by the International Play Association (IPA), of which I am a member. You can find the IPA discussion paper here. Continue reading

10 Ways to Build a City for Children • This City Life

A snappy ten-point checklist for a child-friendly city has been pulled together by Vancouver urbanist and writer Jillian Glover. I confess I am cautious about the ‘top tips’ style of writing, which can lead to oversimplification. But this ticked a lot of my boxes.

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Talks and workshops in Canada next month

I am excited to announce that in three weeks I will be embarking on a coast-to-coast speaking and workshop tour of Canada. It will take in BC (Vancouver and Victoria), Alberta (Lethbridge and Calgary), Ontario (Niagara and Toronto) and Halifax, Nova Scotia. There is a near-final itinerary near the end of this post.

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First ever area-wide evaluation of street play proves its potential

Street play initiatives can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children and families across an urban area. This was the key message of the first ever area-wide study of a street play programme, which I carried out for Hackney Council. My evaluation – launched by the London Borough last Friday – also revealed that schemes have caused minimal levels of traffic disruption, and have faced very little local opposition.

Hackney play streets report cover Continue reading

Playful urban spaces: a lesson from Bilbao

I was in Bilbao a few weekends ago and spent several evenings in Plaza Nueva, a square in the old town and a popular weekend meeting place for local people. While grown-ups enjoyed drinks and tapas (or to use the Basque term, pintxos) in bars under the elegant colonnades, the central area was humming with children playing. Ball games, scooter races, chalk-picture-drawing, heely tricks (remember Heelys?) and chit-chat were just some of what was in the mix.

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