Designing Cities for Children

10 MAR 2021
Surely enabling children to thrive should be one of the prime goals of city managers. A city that is
inimical to children is one that is failing the most vulnerable and setting them up to fail later in life. Whereas a city that encourages and welcomes children is one that will grow and thrive itself. The death of cities is often caused by the lack of families and the children they nurture.

So how do we go about ensuring that the environments of our cities is one that children can live and grown in without threat to their life, health and safety. The Bloomberg Citylab article - - How to Design Cities for Children - highlights an important point.

By 2050 around 70 percent of people will be urbanites, and the majority of them will be under 18. Today, over a billion children are growing up in cities.

This is a huge opportunity to drive creative change. The rapid urbanisation that is underway has been called the greatest migration of mammals ever - and accompanying this change will be increases in wealth, creativity, and an outrush of new opportunities. But it will need to be consciously and actively managed to ensure that the wellbeing of all sections of the population are catered to. In previous posts I have lauded the creative vibrancy of Chaos Cities - but that does not mean disorganisation and failure. The Chaos I envisaged was one of emergent order like the fractal form of a tree.

This will be achieved by a democratisation of the planning process, the empowering of people to build the cities they want and need, on top of the infrastructure required for a modern city. At some scale order and planning is required - at the precinct or neighbourhood level - but within these areas smaller interventions with a defined scope could allow families and even children to create spaces that are their own.

From the article - "Amy Levner, a vice president at KaBOOM!, the U.S. nonprofit that works to provide community-designed play spaces for children living in poverty, said the narrative of child-friendly cities has intensified in the past year..."

Community design - a form of subsidiarity (where decisions are made at the lowest possible level of an organisation or polity) is just the sort of Chaos City planning I'm intending here. Not no-planning, or un-planning - but tailored small scale experimental planning that is rapidly iterated by the community until they achieve their goals.

But on a larger scale planning is required to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure to support getting around - and in ways that support children and youths... ways that empower them.

"Everyday freedoms refer to children’s ability to travel safely on foot or bike and without an adult in their neighborhood - to school, to a rec center, to a park.... Children’s infrastructure means the network of spaces and streets that can make a city child-friendly and encourage these everyday freedoms."

The small scale community led interventions have been identified as important - One consistent theme, says Arup: The most effective interventions are implemented at the hyperlocal level. Think front yards and neighborhoods. “On average,” the authors write, “[spaces in front of homes] make up at least 25 percent of a city’s space and have the greatest potential to encourage everyday freedoms and social interaction.” Focusing on the very local also means that more children can access the interventions.

So this truly is Chaos City - where at a fractal scale locals change the city to support their children. This will take a more sophisticated type of town planning - where planners are shepherds who guide child-friendly development rather than lead it with mega-projects.

I'm beginning to see the shadows of how Chaos City can be applied in many different ways to create more vibrant cities - more democratic and creative cities. I would hope our children will thanks us for this insight and not damn us for failing to see that in the cracks between the planning is the true joy of childhood.
By Hab3