Designing urban environments for children

Making cities child-friendly
The [Convention on the Rights of the Child] establishes children's rights to play and recreation, to protection from discrimination and violence, and to the conditions necessary for optimal development. Children have the right, also, to associate freely with others, to participate in local cultural life and to be prepared for a responsible role in a free society.

For urban children, these rights depend to a large degree on the quality of common space and the built environment. Urban neighbourhoods should ideally provide a secure, welcoming transition to the larger world. They should be places where children can play safely, run errands, walk to school, socialize with friends, watch and learn from the activities of others, and begin to accept and enjoy differences. Too often, however, city neighbourhoods are threatening places, physically and socially. Children play on dangerous thoroughfares, among open sewers and piles of debris, and they take their chances with heavy traffic. They may be confined to homes In areas plagued by social tension and violence, they face chronic anxiety.

Whilst urban design is no substitute for more systematic attention to the social deprivation of children and their communities in an urban environment, it can offer practical measures to alleviate some of the manifestations of poverty and inequity. Many modifications to improve urban children's lives can be effectively initiated and managed by community members. The following guidelines are recommended: (1) Street-lighting, sidewalks, inviting common space and locally-managed ships and facilities can all contribute to the active community presence that increases informal surveillance, inhibits anti-social behaviour and makes neighbourhoods safer places. This works both ways: the presence of young children in common space stimulates positive interaction among adults. (Some communities have found that supporting children's play can be a strategy for dealing with ethnic strife in trouble-torn areas.) (2) Create cul-de-sacs, or close residential streets to through traffic. Speed bumps and barriers can also slow traffic down or make it possible to claim small areas adjacent to the road. Sidewalks and crossing zones make it easier for children to move safely through the neighbourhood. (3) Young children prefer to play close to home. When new housing is constructed, the arrangement of units around shared space can support play and the cooperative interaction of neighbours. With existing dwellings, common areas can be created by means of fencing or plants. Even the smallest pockets of land can be improved to meet the needs of young children. A low wall can doubt as protection and a seat for the caregivers. (4) Older children need larger spaces for satisfying play. They play ball in the streets, jump off construction materials, skip rope, play hopscotch and marbles on sidewalks and create ingenious games of skill with whatever comes to hand. Many poor neighbourhoods are already rich environments for children. If children can make safe use of streets and public spaces, they benefit from being exposed to the variety adn stimulation of neighbourhood life. Sometimes resisting "improvements" may be the most effective response. In some informal settlements, for instance, residents have refused to have badly rutted streets upgraded, recognizing that an improvement for traffic was not an improvement for children. But when local conditions inhibit safe play, efforts should be made to provide stimulating, diverse areas within the local community. (5) Vandalism, drug use and criminal behaviour by young people are sometimes responses to boredom, frustration and a lack of opportunity. Recreation and team sports can provide stimulating and legitimate alternatives; (6) Children and adolescents are the people best qualified to identify their own concerns and to assess solutions. Their involvement should be integral to all responses.
Restraining children
Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 15: Life on Land