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05/05/2011 – Cities for children

Creating cities for children is a challenging idea, but in meeting children’s needs a city assumes the qualities which make for a sustainable, vibrant urban world that works for everyone.  Playtime recently participated in the European Network of Cities for Children seminar organised by Dublin City Council. This years’ conference focused on urban planning for children in the context of mobility, safety and access issues. The Network, founded in 2007, comprises 60 cities and includes among its aims making child friendliness a political priority for city living.

Due to the many complex demands made of a city like Dublin the needs of the residence, especially children, often go unheeded or misunderstood.  Through the various presentations made at the conference the key issue was identified as the importance of engaging children in a participative design process regarding their needs. The presentations covered a range of themes including the use of GIS and hearing the voice of the child in urban planning, the development of child friendly urban environments using Drimnagh on the south side of the city as a case study and traffic management in the city. Playtime presented on research into how children living in the city experience routes they travel on foot. The children have photographed their routes mapping how they get from a to b, while simultaneously mapping the experience of their journey. The various presentations are available to view here: http://www.dublincity.ie/Community/childrensservicesunit/Pages/EuropeanNetworkCitiesforChildrenPresentations.aspx

All public space in the city should be designed with children in mind. In his book Cities for People Jan Gehl describes the city of Venice as a playground where ‘children crawl on monuments and stairs, play along the canals’. High among the priorities of a city which works for children of all ages is to make spaces where they can play.  However a singular focus on building playgrounds in places designated specifically for children runs the risk of ‘ghettoising children’ and it is important to ensure the city is designed so that children can move through it and feel a sense of belonging.  Warning against creating cities which emphasise ‘special places for special activities’, Gehl instead advocates integrating opportunities for children in the everyday space of the city. 

In order to ensure those opportunities are afforded children who live in the city, the consensus at the Cities for Children conference was that we must consult with children and listen to their views on how their needs can be met.