Authors: Tim Gill, Adrian Voce, Darell Hammond and Mariana Brussoni
Cities around the world are failing children. 30 years after the launch of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which aimed to make children’s needs and views central in policy making – most cities are hostile if not life-threatening places for their youngest inhabitants.
The global death toll of children on the roads is surely the most shocking illustration of the failure of urban planning. Road traffic is the leading global cause of death among people aged 15–29, and the second highest single cause of death for children aged 5–14.
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.
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.
On 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?
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?
I have written quite a lot about the decline in children’s freedom to play and get around out of doors. The topic is often the subject of media debate. In an effort to raise the quality of this debate, I offer two charts with contrasting explanations for this change. Continue reading →