by Laura Laker Wed 28 Feb 2018
The reality for many urban children is too much time spent indoors playing on smartphones – but a few cities are fighting the tide with innovative ways to keep kids healthy, sociable – and outdoors
Imagine you are 10 years old. You live in a medium-sized city and want to visit your best friend, a five-minute walk away, so you can go to the park, another 10 minutes’ walk. The problem is, there’s a big, dangerous road between you and your friend, and another between them and the park. You ask your parents if you can walk, they say no, and they are too busy to take you there themselves.
Perhaps you SnapChat your friend instead, perhaps you play a video game on the sofa. You’ve lost out on exercise and time outside, interacting with your neighbourhood and, of course, play time with your friend.
This is the reality for many kids today – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
- Dangerous roads, dilapidated facilities and poor use of green space all help deter kids from playing outside, pushing them towards solitary, indoors activities
Tim Gill, the author of No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society, says a child-friendly city is one that allows “everyday freedoms”, so a child can spread their wings as they grow.
If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone
“It’s not enough to just talk about playgrounds and nice, pretty public spaces,” says Gill. That, he says, creates “play ghettoes – places they have to be taken to by adults”.
Society’s mistake, argues Gill, is that our planning systems are geared around cars, housebuilding and the economy – rather than the environment, health and quality of life.
“You won’t find any urban planners who disagree with that,” says Gill. “It’s because our decision-makers are short-termist politicians who don’t need to look beyond the next two or three years.”
A recent report from Arup identifies five challenges for urban children: traffic and pollution; high-rise living and urban sprawl; crime, social fears and risk aversion; isolation and intolerance; and inadequate and unequal access to the city.
But in urban neighbourhoods around the world, child-friendly design is gaining momentum: from community-led projects, using paint and planters to tackle dangerous routes to schools and playgrounds, to citywide policy reimagining housing policies and neighbourhoods for children.
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