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  • The Need for Child-Friendly Urban Design

Historians often point out that children in the medieval era had almost no childhood, as they were required to work from an early age. However, modern society has gradually shifted its focus towards the education and growth of children, leading to the establishment of the modern education system, including compulsory education, school systems, and specialized educational institutions. This change signifies a societal and cultural evolution where children are now seen as valuable future assets, making their knowledge and skill development crucial. This historical shift is discussed by Ariès in ‘Centuries of Childhood’ (1962), where he explores the concept of childhood across different eras, highlighting the evolving societal views on children and their upbringing.This shift highlights the importance of child-friendly space design.

Today, in some areas, children are restricted from public places, with commercial or private play spaces replacing street play areas. Research indicates that children from impoverished areas are four times more likely to be hit by cars than those from more affluent areas. The need for children’s public spaces is pressing and evident. Child-friendly cities play a vital role in providing recreational areas, fostering social development, supporting children’s education and cultural experiences, and influencing their safety and health. Cities need to design and plan child-friendly spaces that cater to children’s needs, promoting their growth and welfare. The policies and measures of city governments and planners significantly impact children’s quality of life.

  • Examples of Child-Friendly Space Design

Munich Airport in Germany stands out as one of the world’s top ten child-friendly airports. It boasts an outdoor park with a large playground, trampolines, mini steam excavators, and a mini-golf course. Children can role-play as pilots in areas displaying historic airplanes and rescue helicopters, observing planes on the tarmac with telescopes. Indoors, they can watch German children’s TV shows like ‘Travel with Mickey Mouse’ and ‘All Planes Take Off.’ The airport also features children’s play areas and a Lufthansa children’s park in its shopping and leisure zones. At Kinderland, professional teachers engage children in activities, allowing parents to shop, dine, and relax. The airport provides not only a safe play environment but also a space for social activities for children.This example aligns with Nicholson’s ‘Theory of Loose Parts’ (1971), which advocates for creative and interactive play environments to stimulate children’s learning and exploration.

  • Children’s Participation and Public Spaces

Successful children’s public spaces aid in social life participation, considering various factors. Urban design must create safe public spaces like parks, playgrounds, green areas, and pedestrian paths for free and safe play and interaction. These spaces should be situated away from roads to ensure safety and offer diverse facilities like playgrounds, basketball courts, soccer fields, bike paths, and skating rinks to cater to different interests and activities. Schools’ playgrounds and similar areas need thoughtful design to support children’s interactions. Adequate play and resting areas are essential for children to socialize and play during leisure.As Chawla in ‘Growing Up in an Urbanising World’ (2002) notes, the inclusion of children in urban planning fosters a sense of belonging and encourages active participation in community life. Finally, traffic planning should ensure safety in pedestrian and bicycle lanes, enhancing children’s safety in public spaces.

Luodai Ecological Town’s Cloud Park in Chengdu, China, is both an exciting children’s park and an open-air natural museum. The park uses a variety of materials, colors, sounds, textures, and shapes to create unique interactive spaces. These designs offer new sensory, behavioral, and emotional experiences, enhancing participation and enriching children’s play. Inspired by glacial canyon formations, designers created a ‘Glacial Corridor’ with electronic sensors and speakers, emitting pleasant dripping sounds as children pass, echoing like a canyon. These experiences give the park a superior child-friendly ambiance, fostering good contact between children and nature.

In summary, child-friendly urban design is an indispensable part of city planning. It aids in children’s growth and socialization and contributes to societal development. In designing child-friendly cities, we should follow principles like selecting locations on livable streets away from traffic, ensuring children’s safety; creating walking and cycling networks for safe, free leisure and social activities; designing attractive public spaces like the glacial corridor; and developing various types of child-friendly housing with outdoor gardens or structures conducive to parental supervision. The necessity and importance of child-friendly city design are paramount.The principles outlined here reflect the concepts in Spencer and Woolley’s ‘Children and the City’ (2000), emphasizing the crucial role of urban planning in fostering child-friendly environments.





Ariès, P., 1962. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. New York: Vintage Books.

Heft, H. and Chawla, L., 2006. Children as Agents of Environmental Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moore, R., 1986. Childhood’s Domain: Play and Place. London: Croom Helm.

Spencer, C. and Woolley, H., 2000. Children and the City: A summary of recent environmental psychology research. Child: Care, Health and Development, 26(3), pp.181-198.

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

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