How child-friendly should a city be?

When contemplating about the perfect place for children to grow up carefree and romp around in fresh air all day, Lindgren's Bullerby and Lönneberga immediately spring to mind. Very few children, however, grow up like that, let alone in the country at all. More and more people and therefore also children live in the city. But how child-friendly are urban areas? And: How does child-friendly urban planning work?

Text: Anja Koller

Let’s take a look around our cities. Who were they actually planned and built for? Last year, for example, the German news portal Zeit online dealt with the phenomenon of the “male city”. Many cities were built by men for their needs, the author Vanessa Vu pointed out back then. This was due, she stated, to the mere fact that cities are dominated by cars.

It is evident, whether we look at Berlin, Paris or Rome: women, the elderly, people with disabilities and children – urban spaces are full of stumbling blocks and obstacles for all of them. Be it stairs where wheelchair users fail, dark, narrow alleys that cause anxiety, narrow passages that don’t allow room for a pram, or too much traffic and too little greenery to play right outside the front door. All this leads to one conclusion: we need a more inclusive city, a city for all. Children in particular need a lobby, because they are the ones who will make up tomorrow’s society. They need open spaces, play areas, green spaces in order to develop.

The question is: how can we create child-friendly cities, child-friendly public spaces? Urban planner and author Ruth Esther Gilmore identifies four essential elements of urban design for and with children: These are water, trees, participation and mobility. On the website of the German Federal Association for Open Space Design (Bundesverband für Freiraumgestaltung, e. V.), she makes a plea: “Child-friendly urban planning means changing an existing urban structure through targeted interventions in such a way that the city becomes more attractive for children, safer and more vivid in everyday life, and that attention is paid to child-friendly conditions in environmental design. Thus, child friendliness in urban planning refers to any process, concept or planning that contributes to children being able to experience and conquer their cities safely and in a varied way, alone or with family or friends. In the process, their mobility, independence, orientation and creativity are supported and encouraged”, says Gilmore.

The fact that cities, municipalities and city leaders themselves play a major role in shaping the child-friendly city is also emphasised by UNICEF with the “Child-Friendly Cities Initiative” it has launched. The initiative states: “Every[IH1]  child has the right to grow up in an environment where they feel safe and secure, have access to basic services and clean air and water, can play, learn and grow and where their voice is heard and matters”. More than 160 mayors worldwide are now committed to making their cities more child-friendly. This entails, for example, fighting discrimination, creating equal opportunities for all children, i.e. living inclusive lives, listening to children’s concerns and integrating them into urban planning. And not least the aspect of sustainability and climate protection, which in times of Fridays for Future especially drives children and young people to the streets out of concern for their future.

There can be only one answer to the question of “How child-friendly should a city be?”. As child-friendly as possible. Because when cities and municipalities commit to a child-friendly city, they are committing themselves to the well-being of all. Those who plan for children plan for all generations.

Bibliography:, page accessed 22.01.2020, page accessed on 28.01.2020, page accessed on 28.01.2020, page accessed on 28.01.2020