polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

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.