Child Friendly Cities
That which makes cities good places for children to live in, makes them good for everyone. A social and physical environment that is conducive to human development, allows children, and people in general, to reach their potential, and to enrich their community.
Child Friendly Cities
From Adelaide Matters, 49, July 2004
The phyical environment in which children grow up sends all sorts of obvious and subtle messages to children about how they are valued and their place in society.
Too often, when we look around our city, we see parks with limited play opportunities, roads too dangerous to ride on, few places close to home to kick a footy, poor access to infrequent public transport, and badly maintained footpaths.
Our suburbs are generally designed around a road layout into which islands of houses are fitted.
Children need places they can identify as their own, to explore and feel safe in.
The street used to provide a good place for children to expend their boundless energy riding bikes and kicking balls. Now it is too dangerous for those activities.
[When I was a child, I was able to discover and explore by myself the special places near where we lived.]
We lived on a corner of a poorly made side street which, because of infrequent traffic, made a good place to ride a bike, play cricket, and just hang out. How many children have opportunities like that anymore?
- Safe and attractive footpaths and cyclepaths that allow people to get places with minimal conflict with cars.
- Shared street zones where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars.
- Narrower streets.
- Road layouts that reduce traffic speed in residential areas.
- Clear access to public spaces.
- Services such as shops, schools, libraries and playgrounds that are easy and convenient to reach.
- Local community bonds between residents.
- Activities that make suburbs welcoming and friendly.
Learning as part of everyday experience
[In the school at Mawson Lakes] the education provided to primary age children is done in the context of lifelong learning in a community where learning is part of everyday experiences.
This sends out an important message to children about learning; that it can be an integral and relevant part of their everyday life and process of growing up.
Geof Nairne (DesignInc)
Children's growing fascination with technology, and particularly cyberspace, means the real world has to be even more engaging to attract and keep their attention.
As children become more exposed to a virtual world, it is vital that this new mental environment is balanced with equally captivating physical experiences.
In order to be as interesting as the simulated drama of PlayStation games,the physical places in which children play have to be readily available - and set up for the full range of drama and personal risk, quite apart from places of a passive nature.
Wanted for a child friendly, healthy city:
- Parks, pools, playgrounds, soccer fields, gymnasiums, skate parks and theatres within easy reach of residential areas.
Adelaide is a fairly well endowed with places providing physcial opportuniteis for kids of all ages. But such places, which have cost so many millions of dollars, are closed for much of the day.
School facilities could, through design and management, be made available to the community after hours.
Nick Tridente (Tridente Architects)
Who lets their children play in the streets now? It's all about the car. cars have become the commodity. Cars dictate planning.
When you sit a [young] child down with blocks or whatever, what they create is really unique. The older you, the more of that you lose. That imagination is what's important to society. We can't let it be completely restricted by rules. We need the best environment we can for children.
Parent are more critical of the environments in which their children are living and learning.
Modernity's paradox: Fatter, sicker and sadder
Brendan Gleeson, Online Opinion, February 2005
In the new spaces of affluence, the relative absence of a public domain impoverishes the young, excluding them from the principal civic resources and social experiences that nourish the development of strong citizenship values.
Australia has become an immensely wealthier country over the past three decades, but this material enrichment has been accompanied by a startling decline in the health and well-being our children.
Could it be that the centuries long "growth fetish" has produced cities and communities that are environmentally and socially injurious to their most vulnerable human inhabitants, the children and the poor?
Fiona Stanley speaks of the shattering consequences of growth and the social changes partly engendered by this: unprecedented levels of family breakdown and discord; ever longer working hours, cultural alienation; and, rising wealth inequality. The weakening and withdrawal of the public domain from many urban communities has also left children vulnerable.
The growth in housing girth is an environmental concern - the suburban palazzos are energy guzzlers - and also, perhaps, a health concern. Evidence on the national epidemic in childhood obesity points to a relationship between the expanding girth of dwellings and the growing waistlines of their inhabitants.
The contemporary suburban mega house internalises activity, allocating large amounts of space to passive recreation: home theatres, lounges, rumpus and computer rooms, courtyards, and monster garages for the storage of adults' toys.
Gwyther explains: "They love cocooning inside their McMansions, which are like castles, fun factories and mini resorts in one". These relatively sedentary residential landscapes contrast with older suburban forms that were premised on far greater levels of outdoor activity, especially for children.
The traditional backyard has gone, along with its trees, garden veggie patch, often pool, washing line and shed, where children could let their bodies and imaginations run free and build tree houses, cubbyhouses, billycarts, dig in the dirt and invent games. Now, it's indoor computer games, and, given there's no room for a decent run-up in most McMansion courtyards, children are driven to sport and formally organised activities most days of the week.
Those "McKids" who actually do participate in organised sport - a chore for parents working long hours on the mortgage treadmill - will experience at least some level of physical activity. But missing from these new suburban landscapes are the opportunities for spontaneous, constant free play available to children of previous generations, and those lucky enough still to have backyards. As Hawley observes, many parents cite space as the principal reason for rejecting "inner city shoe boxes" in favour of the new master planned estates. And yet free, permeable space seems to be almost absent from the new residential landscapes.
The freedom and permeability of activity space is further reduced by the highly routinised and supervised lives imposed on contemporary middle class urban children. The Geographer, Paul Tranter, believes that Australian children are subjected to unprecedented levels of surveillance and control, driven by an epidemic of parental and institutional concern about environmental risk and crime. Many now live highly scripted lives, marked by pervasive anxiety and the absence of free and independent play. Cadzow (Sydney Morning Herald, January 17, 2004) writes of the "bubble wrap generation":
So reluctant are we to let our offspring out of our sight that we drive them to the playground and everywhere else rather than allow them to walk or ride their bikes. Strapped into the backseat of the family sedan, chauffeured to and from school, soccer practice and piano lessons, middle-class Australian boys and girls are like pampered prisoners - cosseted, constrained and constantly nagged.
Children need autonomy from adults for their psychic and social development: little wonder then that the "pampered prisoners" flee the bounds of their suburban cells for the horizonless expanses of computer generated worlds where freeplay is always possible. They may not be permitted to climb trees, ride their bikes to the shops or go unaccompanied to parks, but here they can wage global, even intergalactic, wars, build cities and even design the perfect family.
Despite evidence which shows Australia to be a greatly safer place for children than it was three decades ago, an obdurate culture of fear drives the ever increasing parental colonisation of children's lifeworlds. The colonisation project seems strangely disconnected to real social evidence, including, for example, a recent, and hardly reported, Australian Bureau of Statistics survey that shows a significant drop in crime in New South Wales between 2001-3 and an increase in the number of people who reported that their neighbourhoods were crime free.
Fiona Stanley, Australian of the Year, August 2003
The paradox of progress is that not only are we seeing the increases in serious problems in our children, but the social gradients, the differences between the "haves" and the "haves not", have increased not decreased.
If you start off compromised, then your whole-of-life chances are affected. If you start off healthily and well-nurtured then you are much more likely to reach your genetic potential.
Failure to invest in all stages of human development, particularly in the early years, negatively affects future economic prosperity.
The success of knowledge economies will result from a competent workforce and high levels of social capital. The real brain drain is the increase in the proportions of young people falling out of [the] competent workforce. [Or at least not achieving their potential within it.]
Providing a nurturing social environment from birth helps prevent a range of social problems, and enhances resilience and capacity.
"Children who have good early childhood experiences before age 6, in stimulating, nurturing environments have better outcomes throughout their life and the earlier they have these experiences, the better the result. They have better school grades, better self esteem, fewer social problems, and fewer health problems and less likely to be teen parents, use drugs or be involved in crime" Hertzman, Canada, 2003.
Family environments are crucial to [child development]. Most parents want to be good parents and want the best for their children but they need to be equipped and capable to do so.
We also need to look beyond the family to neighbourhoods, workplaces, the social and economic policies and environments and to ask what is it about modern Australian communities which are "family-disabling"?
Changes in our society which have impacted negatively on early child development and youth problems include disparities in opportunities and services (privatisation of things like child care means that those most in need may miss out), family breakdown, increasing hours of work, rapid technological change, the information explosion, stress, violence (violence has a particular and extreme effect on young children), reduced trust and social capital in neighbourhoods (less likely to call on neighbours for child care, advice, social support etc).
Griffith University Urban Research Program
UNICEF's Child-friendly Cities Initiative
Karen Malone, Globalism Institute RMIT University
Cities for Children - Positives
- Economics providing basic services.
- Variety and quality of public services.
- Access to resources.
- Diversity in people.
- Variety in stimuli.
Cities for Children - Negatives
- Danger and violence.
- Motorized traffic.
- Proximity to pollutants.
- Lack of play spaces.
- Lack of independence.
What Children Want
- Clean water and enough food to eat.
- To be healthy and to have the space to learn, develop and play in peace.
- Friends and family who love and care for them.
- To participate in community life and be valued.
- To collaborate with others (including adults) to make the world a better place for all.
- Access to a unpolluted environment where they can connect with nature (lots of trees).
- The opportunity to speak and to be listened to.
- Their views to be taken seriously and responded to by local and global decision makers.
- Influence decisions.
- Express their opinions.
- Participate in family, community and social life.
- Receive basic services.
- Be protected from exploitation.
- Walk safely in streets alone, meet friends and play.
- Access to green spaces.
- Live without threat pollution.
- Participate in cultural and social events.
- Be an equal citizen.
Characteristics of a Child Friendly City
- Good access for all children to affordable, quality basic health services, clean water, adequate sanitation and solid waste removal.
- Local authorities to ensure that policies, resources allocations and governance actions are made in a manner that is in the best interests of the children and their constituencies.
- Safe environments and conditions that nurture the development of children of all ages with opportunities for recreation, learning, social interaction, psychological development and cultural expression.
- A sustainable future under equitable social and economic conditions, and protection from the effects of environmental hazards and natural disasters.
- That children have the right to participate in making decisions that affect their lives and are offered opportunities to express their opinions.
- That special attention is given to disadvantaged children, such as those who are living or working on the streets, sexually exploited, living with disabilities or without adequate family support.
- Non-discrimination based on gender, ethnic background or social or economic status.
UN Policy Framework for Child Friendly Cities
- UNICEF- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- UNEP - UNCED/ WSSD
- UNCHS - Habitat 2 Agenda
- UNDP - Sustainable Cities project
- World Summit for Children- The Plan for Action
- UNESCO Growing Up in Cities
"While working with children we have learnt to value children. The child is an active member of the community who will be able to build their own knowledge and their own identity. Childhood leaves traces for future life" (Anna Lia Garrdini Director of Social Services, Pistoria)
Positive Social Qualities
- Social Integration
- Freedom from social threats
- Cohesive community identity
- Tradition of community self-help
Negative Social Qualities
- Sense of political powerlessness
- Insecure tenure
- Racial tensions
- Fear of harassment and crime
- Boredom, social exclusion and stigma
Positive Physical Qualities
- Healthy Green areas.
- Provision of basic services.
- Variety of activity settings.
- Freedom from physical danger.
- Freedom of movement.
Negative Physical Qualities
- Lack of gathering places.
- Lack of varied activity settings.
- Lack of Basic services.
- Heavy Traffic.
- Geographic isolation.
Implications if cities don't support children's rights in the planning of cities
- Limited environmental literacy
- Inability to obtain privacy and freedoms
- A lack of experience of autonomy and independence
- A lack of opportunity to access resources
- Inability to function as active citizens
What Australian youth tell us they need in urban environments to feel good about themselves
- Unregulated places
- Diversity of public spaces
- Safe and secure meeting places
- Flexible places in terms of shelter
- Secure and safe corridors for moving around
- Variety in the dimension, size and malleability of places
- Facilities which encourage, consolidate and allow identification and connection
- Opportunities to engage in discussions with others
- Authentic input into decision-making over the use of public space
NSW Parliament, October 2005
According to UNICEF, a child friendly city is actively engaged in fulfilling the right of every citizen to:
- Influence decisions about their city.
- Express their opinions on the city they want.
- Participate in family, community and social life.
- Gain access to basic services such as health care, education and shelter.
- Drink safe water and have access to proper sanitation.
- Be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse.
- Walk safely in the streets, on their own.
- Meet friends and play.
- Have green spaces for plants and animals.
- Live in an unpolluted and sustainable environment.
- Participate in cultural and social events.
- Be supported, loved and cared for.
- Be equal citizens with access to every service, regardless of ethnic origin, religion, income, gender or disability.
The International Secretariat for Child Friendly Cities promotes nine building blocks to becoming a child-friendly city:
1. Children's participation - promoting children's active involvement in issues that affect them; listening to their views and taking them into consideration in decision-making processes.
2. A child-friendly legal framework - ensuring legislation, regulatory frameworks and procedures which consistently promote and protect the rights of children.
3. A city-wide Children's Rights Strategy - developing a detailed, comprehensive strategy or agenda for building a Child Friendly City, based on the Convention.
4. A Children's Rights Unit or coordinating mechanism - developing permanent structures in local government to ensure priority consideration of children's perspectives.
5. Child impact assessment and evaluation - ensuring that there is a systematic process to assess the impact of law, policy and practice on children - in advance, during and after implementation.
6. A children's budget - ensuring adequate resource commitment and budget analysis for children.
7. A regular State of the City's Children report - ensuring sufficient monitoring and data collection on the state of children and their rights.
8. Making children's rights known - ensuring awareness of children's rights among adults and children.
9. Independent advocacy for children - supporting non-government organizations and developing independent human rights institutions - children's ombudsmen or commissioners for children - to promote children's rights.
Child Friendly Cities - UNICEF