Thursday, April 29, 2010

The urban realm for children

I tend to be quite wary of the refrain "But what about the children?" As a rule, I hear this trotted out in alarmist tones calling for conservatism and decisions based on fear. Especially in my work on Safe Routes to Schools, I hear from parents who are given messages of fear day in and day out about the dangers their children face if they're allowed to walk or bike to school: stranger danger, traffic danger, personal safety danger. I hear many of them reminisce wistfully about their own childhoods, when it was much more common and widely accepted that young children could travel about their neighborhoods unattended.

Nevertheless, the fear for children's safety, whether the perceived threats are real or imagined, plays a huge role in the decisions parents make for their children, and how other parents respond to those choices.

So, I'm fascinated by the concept of designing cities for children. We're not talking, here, about cities full of ball-pits and bouncy-castles (though who wouldn't love THAT?) but rather, cities whose physical infrastructure is safe and inviting for kids to navigate on their own, to get from home to playground to school:
As its main objectives, the project seeks autonomy, participation, safety and mobility for children in the city, to make it possible for them to leave their home without being accompanied by an adult so that they can meet friends and play in public spaces of the city: from courtyards to sidewalks, from public squares to parks.

This has me thinking about how utterly people friendly a kid-friendly city would be. If a child can safely navigate a city's streets, then the vast majority of adult users will be able to do the same. If a city's streets are vibrant and inviting to curious young people, they will probably be welcoming and intriguing to adults of all ages.

What do you think a kid-friendly city would look like?

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