polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Raising Healthy Children in Cities

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Source: The Outdoor Poetry Network

As the world's urban population grows rapidly, there is a risk of weakening our healthy ties to non-urban nature. This has a particularly strong impact on children.

Source: Penn State University
Given the importance of early childhood on longterm physical and mental health, securing each child's access to greenery, fresh air and clean water plays an essential role in achieving social sustainability.

Urban sprawl has many negative health impacts, from pollution to loss of green space and automobile dependency. Reducing sprawl is extremely difficult, in part, because living outside the city is generally considered more healthy.

Source: UNICEF
Raising children in a house with a garden is highly valued. However, the world cannot support five billion city residents living in automobile-dependent areas. The challenge, then, is to promote urban density (and restrict urban sprawl) without compromising the capacity of families to raise their children in a healthy environment.

In promoting healthier cities, simple practices like setting up orchards on balconies and terraces, facilitating access to organic products, cooking at home, extended breastfeeding and educating children outdoors can bring tangible results. We can plan and take good care of parks, cover streets with trees and implement other child-friendly design measures.

Several organizations are working to make urban childhood healthier. Babies and Kids in the City, started by three mothers from Manchester, U.K., assembles crowd-sourced reviews of child-friendly venues. The European Network of Cities for Children promotes innovative policy for urban families and child health. UNESCO has published a guide for youth participation in urban development, which seeks to help children protect their own wellbeing. UNICEF's Child Friendly Cities is a guide for local authorities and planners in making cities better places for raising kids. These initiatives are on the right track, but there is much more we can do to develop healthy urban environments for children.

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