Cities for Children?

by Melissa García Lamarca

Wandering around various cities in northern Spain, I have been struck by the widespread integration of playgrounds into attractive and central public spaces; for example, in Santander (above) or Bilbao (below, right beside the Guggenheim). These kinds of safe, accessible areas are usually marginal in comparison with spaces for cars, housing, and business – all obviously designed and planned by adults.

The City of Children project – housed within the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Council of Research in Rome, with partners in cities across Italy, Spain, and Argentina – seeks to challenge and change this dynamic by engaging children in policy decisions. The project supports autonomy, participation, safety, and mobility for children in public space – from courtyards to sidewalks, public squares to parks. Through children's proposals and ideas, as well as participation in decision-making and project realization, the project builds an understanding of children's culture in the minds of adults. For example, cities can establish a Children’s Council to participate in local policy decisions. A structure of open City of Children Laboratories can monitor local needs/resources and track the results of planning decisions over time.

While there is significant theoretical acknowledgment of the importance of these issues, there remains much to be done in bringing about a meaningful integration of children into urban planning decisions. I see this as part of building more sustainable, socially just cities, and the City of Children project is making an important contribution.

Credits: Photos by Melissa García Lamarca.


  1. Interesting post! Have you seen this playground featured recently on pruned?

  2. Thanks for this link Peter, I hadn't seen this playground, looks fantastic although unbelievable that it is 1.1 million € ... The adventure playground concept they mention seems interesting, a different type of creativity where kids fill in the empty spaces so to speak, and also more accessible.

  3. Great post. I wish more people were thinking along these lines, even for sites that are not especially designed for children. They see the world from a different scale, and I don't hear this special experience brought up very often in day to day planning discourse. Is it a criteria in site plan review? Are we accounting for their needs when writing city codes? Maybe some places are ahead of others on this front.

    The thought of expanding the circle of participation to allow children is interesting too. My community held some community design classes for children living in a public housing area that is about to be redeveloped. Supposedly some of the results from the classes are to be integrated into the final design.

  4. Thanks Daniel for sharing your thoughts. I personally am not aware of any place where children's needs or engagement falls into site plan review criteria, or in writing city codes, and also have never heard it brought up in planning discourse. Please keep us posted on what happens with integrating the results from the design process involving children in the redevelopment project in your community, it would be really great to hear about an example in practice.

  5. If urban schools are unusable, it doesn't matter how many playgrounds are in a city.

  6. Thanks for this interesting post, Melissa. Ciites that are thinking about ways to keep families should definitely be planning along these lines. Montreal has developed a family policy to try to lure young families to stay in the city as opposed to moving out to the suburbs.(

    So far, all I have seen is in an ad campaign touting the benefits of living in the city. But I think we have a lot to learn from European cities, especially those taking into serious consideration the needs of children, and thus their families.


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