New guide offers city planners a child’s eye view

18th March 2021 Sarah Wray

If you could experience the city from 95cm – the average height of a three-year-old – what would you change?

A new online guide seeks to answer this question, and provides tools and examples of how cities can modify the built environment to improve the health, education and security of vulnerable children under the age of five.

The Proximity of Care Design Guide from Arup and the Bernard van Leer Foundation is based on research and fieldwork in refugee and informal settlements in Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan and South Africa but the authors say its findings are also relevant to children living in deprived areas in cities everywhere.

Sara Candiracci, Associate Director, Arup International Development, said: “While this guidance was conceived before the pandemic, the crisis has shone a spotlight on the vast and widening development gap experienced by children in deprived urban areas.

“Simple but meaningful interventions in the urban environment can be as life-changing to those in deprived areas of London or New York as they are to children in informal settlements in Cape Town. Interventions to improve the development of children can have long-lasting, transformative effects on cities and we must deploy them now to prevent the pandemic from inflicting lasting damage on already deprived communities.”

According to analysis from UNICEF and Save the Children, the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health care, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – has risen by 150 million since the pandemic hit, to approximately 1.2 billion.

The guidance builds on a virtual reality tool developed by Arup in in collaboration with the Bernard Van Leer Foundation as part of the Urban95 initiative, which works to help city planners and urban designers understand how their work can influence child development. The solution allows users to experience the city at the average height of a three-year-old and is aimed at raising awareness of the challenges faced by young children in cities globally.

Global examples

City examples highlighted in the guide include:

  • The Khayelitsha informal settlement in Cape Town suffers from gang violence and exposure to environmental hazards. A network of play spaces was set up – including the upgrade of existing courtyards throughout the settlement, creating a series of designated play spaces designed to target different development skills through play.
  • In Santiago colourfully painted streets and sidewalks have created new areas for play for children and families to enjoy, away from traffic. Shared streets pilot schemes around the world are using light materials and temporary designs to activate temporary car-free spaces – providing more space for people, not cars, and reducing young children’s exposure to air pollution.
  • Tel Aviv has put in place a child development officer who coordinates a joint work plan for early childhood development across departments. The joint work includes a steering committee with senior leadership from each department.
  • Oslo’s Traffic Agent App ‘casts’ its primary-school age users in the role of secret agents, encouraging them to provide feedback about their everyday journey to school to enable improved road maintenance and infrastructure planning.

Image: Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

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