CHILD FRIENDLY URBAN DESIGN: The introduction of child-friendly facilities and planning
With the fast development of society, our lives are getting better and better, and so are cities. While all the urban designers are adults, only a few designers realized that children also have needs. So recent years have seen a rapidly growing public debate about the welfare of children, people have paid much attention to child-friendly cities.
In 1996, UNICEF and UN-Habitat formally proposed the “Child-Friendly Cities Initiative” at the Second Conference on Human Settlements. This initiative aims to fully mobilize local governments and all sectors of society to jointly create safe, inclusive, and adequate cities. Cities and communities that are responsive to children’s needs. This action has been widely recognized around the world since it was proposed, triggering attention and action for children’s well-being in various countries. At present, the child-friendly city initiative has penetrated into 38 countries around the world, and more than 3,000 cities and communities have been awarded the title of child-friendly city, covering more than 30 million children (Unicef, 2016).
Figure 1: The map of countries with Child Friendly Cities
As a child-friendly city, it must have some necessary conditions, such as green spaces, safe places, supporting community and so on. There are two dimensions of child friendly: things to do and independent mobility. Therefore, it is a hard work to create a child-friendly city which asks designers to consider all kinds of things and they have to change the height of their eyes.
Fen Court pedestrian street
Here are two good examples of child-friendly cities. The first one is Fen Court pedestrian street in London, UK, this was originally a quiet lane surrounded by high-rise buildings, with only hurried urban white-collar workers passing by. But this situation changed after the completion of the “Urban Playground”. The cold, monotonous streets welcome the laughter of children, and adults who are busy at work are willing to stop temporarily and reminisce about their childhood.
Figure 2: The Child-friendly facilities on Fen Court pedestrian street
The playground was built by McCloy + Muchemwa Design Company on commission from EC BID. It will be officially unveiled at the London Architecture Festival in 2023 and will be open to the public. The design concept respects children’s rights and reimagines urban sites. The entire “urban playground” is similar to a 1.8m (width) x 1.8m (height) x 3m (length) assembled building block. After assembly, the exterior is brown and the interior is soft light blue. After dismantling, it appears as modules of different sizes and shapes. The larger part can be used as an outdoor display stage, while the smaller modules are completely inaccessible to adults. Only children can get into the cave and play their hide-and-seek game. These irregular blocks are scattered along the path, like a mysterious game kingdom, attracting children and adults to stop and explore. In addition, the designer also used mirror panels in some modules to increase the concealment and interest of the device. This wonderful design that blends in with the surrounding environment greatly enriches children’s sensory experience. It is worth mentioning that this assembled design also facilitates the movement and relocation of the “urban playground”. After the London Architecture Festival, various parts of the “Urban Playground” were dispersed into major schools, communities, and cultural institutions as permanent amusement equipment, adding more humanistic charm to the entire city (archdaily, 2023).
Figure 3: Design principles for child-friendly facilities
Figure 4: Children playing in the playground
The other example is Bourne Estate which is located in the London Borough of Camden Central London. In 2013, LB Camden identified it as a site that could benefit from redevelopment as part of its borough-wide Community Investment Programme (CIP). An additional 55 homes were added to the existing estate, as well as a new tenants’ hall, and improved public realm and play spaces to connect existing and new residences. A new public route was introduced to support wider connectivity and access to non-residents, whilst also maintaining enclosed and safe facilities for residents, putting play at the heart of the scheme (MAKING LONDON CHILD-FRIENDLY, 2020).
Figure 5: Plan
Figure 6: Bourne Estate
After this redevelopment, a new direct route was built from the courtyards to the adjacent primary school. Relocation of the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) to the heart of the estate, putting children and young people’s recreation at the centre. Relocation of the community hall to open into a well-supervised play area. Routes and parking areas are re-landscaped as shared surfaces to slow traffic and prioritise pedestrians. Public realm is activated with entrances and doors facing one another, linked and visible to the shared spaces. All these improvements are helpful for children in this community.
Figure 7: Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA)
In conclusion, children are one of the important and indispensable members of human society, we should also consider their needs in the design process. Let us create a child-friendly and harmonious city together.
Gill, T. (2021) Urban playground : how child-friendly planning and design can save cities, London : RIBA Publishing.
Gleeson, B. & Sipe, N.G. (2006) Creating child friendly cities : reinstating kids in the city. London: Routledge.
MAYOR OF LONDON, (2020), MAKING LONDON CHILD -FRIENDLY, DESIGNING PLACES AND STREETS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE, London government.