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Children are not being considered when it comes to urban planning

Updated: May 8, 2019

This article is written by and highlights the importance of designing public spaces around adults AND children. Read why we need to consider children in our planning processes more often.

'Children are being left out of decisions about the environments created around them, when really, their needs should be at the heart of them' - Jenny Wood 

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Children are being left out of decisions about the environments created around them, when really, their needs should be at the heart of them.

In the UK, children are becoming less healthy – physically and mentally – and spend more time indoors than previous generations. Society is so caught up in discussing children’s health, education, safety and social media use, that little time is spent looking at the effect urban planning has on their lives.

Children growing up in towns and cities have less freedom to move around their neighbourhoods than their parents. Experts suggest that a 10-year-old child today has far less licence to roam than a 10-year-old two generations ago. The biggest problem here is the increase of traffic and dangerous roads, which makes many adults hesitant to allow children out.

Children can also be excluded from open space due to overzealous regulations such as ‘no ball games’, or the idea that playing near their homes causes nuisance. There are even more problems for teenagers who are more likely to be treated with suspicion in a public space than adults.

While social issues at heart, these problems are perpetuated by poor planning and urban design. This is leading to children living increasingly sheltered lives and experiencing the outdoors only in adult-led, organised activities.

Children’s rights and needs:

The UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1991 (Ireland signed up in 1992). It gives all people below the age of 18 additional rights to adults, recognising that children are generally more vulnerable to being manipulated, and also less likely to be given a say in how they live their lives. Among these rights are three articles especially relevant to their environment:

Article 12: the right to participate in all matters that affect them.

Article 15: the right to freedom of association, including to gather in public space and organise their own activities.

Article 31: the right to play, rest, leisure and access cultural life.

Current planning policy across the UK recognises a need for greater sustainability and inclusivity. But in practice, this mostly takes into account economic matters such as providing enough employment opportunities; transport, traffic and parking; and enough housing to meet growing demand.

In the midst of all these economic concerns, social needs – and especially those of the youngest, most vulnerable citizens – can be brushed aside. When it comes to planning, a plethora of evidence shows adult communities often feel unheard, while involving children at all is still viewed as an innovative thing to do.

The proliferation of parks, playgrounds and skateparks is an indication that children’s rights are not well understood.

When children are asked about their favourite places to play, the playground is rarely their first choice. And most adults will often agree that they also favoured places other than the playground when they were children: parks, woods, riverbanks, fields and beaches were the places that captured imagination, not a few swings in an enclosed tarmacked space. Similarly, skateparks offer only limited recreation potential and tend to be favoured more by boys than by girls.

Playgrounds often lack a range of equipment to suit children of different ages and abilities and are not always well maintained. Children also have to be able to reach the playground safely on their own, otherwise they have to be accompanied. This can limit the time children have to play outdoors and contributes further demands on the time of already pressured parents and carers.

These exclusions and misunderstandings of what children really need contribute to environments that favour adults over children, and can leave children feeling disempowered, discouraged, inactive and dependent on the adults around them.

Read more here.

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