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Child-Friendly Urban Design

Nature of Children
Kids are born to play. Their learning process is through experience, experimenting and imitation. Those types of learning require all senses like vision, audition, olfaction, gustation and tactile perception. In order to allow the children to learn, they need to be exposed to the outside environment and play with their friends. As Jan Gehl mentioned children’s social development is mainly based on what they experience in the world around them. They will use all their senses when they are exposed to the outside environment for instance by smelling, they learn the type of flowers; by listening, they know the type of animals; and by vision, learn they the type of plants.

 Figure 1. The 5 characteristics of play. (The LEGO Foundation)

What stops them?
While passing the modernism, the urban space design has shifted towards the vehicle, construction and technology. The obsession with a fast and efficient city is good but bad urban management gives the slam towards the children’s development in the urban area. The lack of playgrounds, open space and pedestrian infrastructure indicates a poor urban fabric. The low level of safety for the children to play outside as well as for the adults especially women as mentioned by Whyte women are more sensitive to annoyances and spend more time looking for open space. This becomes a factor of a low frequency of children playing outside.

What to improve?
Therefore, the urban designer, planner and architects are required to apply the child-friendly policy in any urban design project. There are a few elements of child-friendly policy which are interaction, appropriation, mobility and play. Interaction is a design that allows the children to interact with the surrounding people and environment. Appropriation, a designated space for the children to play under safety and security. Mobility is an easy connection from their house to their destination place. Play is a space or area that is designated to play and explore. All these elements are sufficient to tackle what the children want and need.

Newcastle Upon Tyne’s approach
The Newcastle’s urban fabric applies the child-friendly policy. From my observations, parks and playgrounds are located near the schools and kindergartens. The kids can play outside the school gathering area in the parks which is portrayed as the extension area.

Figure 2. St Paul’s C of E Primary School is located opposite a park. It can be utilised to provide extra space is utilised the school for outdoor activities. (Google map with author’s illustration)

Besides, the playgrounds and parks are also located in a safe area which is good for their wellbeing. The location is surrounded by residential buildings. It creates a natural surveillance of the environment which develops a sense of community and belonging. For example, Canning Street Primary School with a park beside the premises located in the middle of a residential area. It is also far from the main road as well designated small road in order to slow down the speed of the vehicles.

Figure3. Canning Street School location is child-friendly as it avoids the main road and is surrounded by residents. (Google map with author’s illustration)

Overall, the child-friendly policy is essential for the social development of the children. Embracing their life will make them better humans physically, psychologically and mentally. This small contribution will also extend the positive character to the social neighbourhood and environment. Therefore, all parties need to be aware and alert regarding the built environment of the area where their children play before focusing on a larger scale.

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

Telephone: 0191 208 6509