Children must be taught how to think, not what to think. – Margaret Mead
Inevitably urban lifestyle is increasingly affecting the child’s physical and emotional health by living in a polluted urban environment with lower social cohesion and higher crime rates, being driven in grade-oriented competition from childhood, and being solitary due to fewer friends and busy parents. As UN-HABITAT estimates that 60% of the world’s urban population will be dominated by people under the age of 18 by 2030, actively involving the children in placemaking can prepare the cities to provide an ideal living condition for the young population and prepare this demographic as responsible future citizens as well.
Why the youth?
Young people use public places more than adults. As they often walk or ride a bicycle across the community while going to school or spending time with friends, they grow a stronger sense of the geography of the places. Moreover, they have open and creative thinking which is not tainted by corruption or political advantages. Therefore, they can be engaged in making child-friendly public places as they can contribute meaningful insights about the places, social issues, community interests, and concerns.
As per PPS (Project for Public Spaces), true participation can happen by making the young people understand the project and implanting a desire among them to passionately be interested in the project so that they can visualize the outcome as well. Children can constructively be engaged in various simple and efficient methodologies:
- Children under 10 years of age can involve in investigating the places by walking around and pointing out their likes and dislikes, expressing their thinking and ideas through painting, collages, or even models.
- Children between 10 and 18 can engage more in understanding and conveying the community issues, importance of the places, and even the contextual architectural and environmental characteristics.
- Further, they can actively participate in the design process by integrating the requirements of activities and associated built spaces and even engaging in the construction work with the help of other stakeholders and volunteers.
These combinations of activities eventually equip young people with many skills which we can discuss in the following two categories:
1. Developing practical life and employability skills by engaging in collaborative placemaking.
Children’s participation in placemaking not only shapes their environments but also empowers them with hard and soft skills, knowledge, and confidence. While participating in placemaking, they explore the places through observations, mapping, interviews, and analyze the findings to set the need and requirements for new developments. Through this process, they develop strong communication and decision-making skills and learn to creatively solve problems. While participating in the design and construction process, they develop skills to create quality outputs from their learnings and get career insights and entrepreneurial skills. As in this whole process, they work with a wide range of stakeholders involved in shaping places, by voicing their requirements, getting heard by the decision-makers, and getting accepted for their ideas and actions, they develop a strong sense of agency and empowerment. They also learn to reflect on their actions and be adaptable for the most effective outcome. Therefore, this process equips them to grow as an active citizen, and constructively contribute to the success of their places.
2. “First we shape our city and then our city shapes us”- Jan Gehl
The built environment significantly shapes human development. If a city is safe and healthy for a child, it will automatically be safe and healthy for all the citizens. Therefore, co-creating the designs of placemaking with young people, the cities become youth-friendly and more resilient. In the long run, this also helps the young population to reduce problems such as depression, behavioral issues, and juvenile. crime, domestic violence, child abuse, and even obesity. Implementing the young people’s ideas not only adds to the character of the city, but also helps the children to develop a stronger sense of responsibility, ownership, and identity to their hometowns. With time they become more actively involved in larger civic issues by investing time and resources and the city organizations can retain talent and resources to become more equitable and sustainable cities.
Below are some examples of implementing child- friendly initiatives in vulnerable urban environments and engaging young people in a playful innovative way to design these places:
3. Redesigning a school playground in Dhaka, Bangladesh as a Ph.D. project by Matluba Khan, Lecturer in Urban Design, Cardiff University
Addressing the universal preference of the children to learn outdoors, this experimental project equipped a school courtyard with outdoor learning opportunities with low-cost materials, technologies, and a mural made by the students. The design concept was derived by brainstorming and model making sessions with the students, teachers, and a local architect. This project significantly increased attentiveness among the students for the change in the learning environment.
4. Using Minecraft for children participatory public space design
UN-Habitat and Block by Block Foundation formed a partnership to use the video game Minecraft as a community participation tool to engage children and youth in designing public spaces in 20 developing countries. Using this concept in Dandora, a low-income neighborhood in Eastern Nairobi, children and youth were involved in placemaking to develop ideas and participating in implementation as well in improving street conditions, wall paintings, tree planting, and sewage cleaning.
5. Bidwill chill space at Sydney
This space was design-build by engaging the young people from the Youth Activities Program run by Mt Druitt Learning Ground in nine sessions as a part of a Ph.D. research.
The urban professionals and other stakeholders conducting the participation workshops have the most important role to follow the right approaches and mechanisms to engage the youth for an authentic and positive output. By structuring a fun, engaging, and non-tokenistic framework to encourage participation, where the youth can voice their opinion openly and get the opportunity to engage in partnership with the other stakeholders is the key to building youth-friendly places in the cities.
- Margaret Mead (1973). “Coming of Age in Samoa”