Cities for children

There’s a repeating theme I’ve noticed over the last few years’ worth of changes in various cities, something that might be called the “oh, wait” moment. An old, old one we’ve mentioned before is the sidewalk curb-side “notch” which was originally popularized after the second world war when there was a surge of people in crutches and wheel chairs who needed sidewalks to be more accessible but oh, wait… it’s also proven super useful for the elderly and for parents pushing strollers. Recently it’s increased bike paths and pedestrian streets to give people some room during the pandemic but oh, wait… it’s actually appreciated year-long and not only good for active mobility but also for the business of surrounding cafes, restaurants and shops.

Something similar comes to mind reading this article on why we should create cities for children. Looking at how cities can be hard on kids and what can be done to make it easier on them, one can’t help but realize that oh, wait… I’d enjoy those changes too!

A recent report by Arup, a consultancy in planning and engineering, identified five challenges for urban children: traffic and pollution; skyscrapers and urban sprawl; crime, social fears and aversion to risk; isolation and intolerance; and inadequate and uneven access to the city.

Fix or attenuate the above and you’ve got neighbourhoods everyone enjoys more. Another recurring theme of our era, is blaming individuals for collective issues. Turn off your lights to fight climate change! What if it’s something systemic that would be better tackled collectively at policy level? Blaming parents for keeping a tighter leash on their kids is an easy out, but the article argues that cities are just not built for kids (ed.: or the elderly, or pregnant women, or differently abled people, etc.). With busier streets, greater distances between schools, work places, community centers, gyms, etc. Not only are streets less for kids than before, children also don’t have as many things they can get to safely.

In short, the article makes the point that cities for kids mean kids can have more autonomy, better lives within the city, and then be better adults in that city.

Photo: © Hiroyuki Oki.