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Open for Play: An exploration of child friendly urban design

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According to the WHO (World Health Organization, 2017) road traffic accidents were the leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds globally in the year 2015. The streets and spatial networks which make up the contemporary city are no longer safe
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   " According to the WHO   (World Health Organization, 2017) road traffic accidents were the leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds globally in the year 2015. The streets and spatial networks which make up the contemporary city are no longer safe havenÕs that nurture the child. Continued rise of motorised modes of transport and associated infrastructure (i.e roads and parking) has taken up highly valuable land, diminished the urban environment and weakened ties within communities. In response, parents react by further sheltering their wards from dangers relating to the environment i.e. car accidents, abductions etc react. Children are not only afraid to cross streets but often feel unsafe even on sidewalks. A 2016 study showed that urban stress and the lack of opportunities for play are some of the contributing factors in increased levels of mental health problems in young children (Newbury et al, 2016).   ESSAY STRUCTURE The first section of this essay will give an insight into the significance of child friendly urban design. Using a number of policies, theories and research, the essay will outline some of the key themes inherent within child friendly design. A number of case studies will also be highlighted to further support the concept. The second section of the essay will discuss to what extent the aforementioned themes have been incorporated into the Urban Studio Wellesbourne Masterplan Proposal. Finally, a conclusion will summarise the points raised and reiterate the idea that designing child friendly urban spaces can and does lead to a better, more fulfilling urban experience for all. SIGNIFICANCE OF CHILD FRIENDLY URBAN DESIGN The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone below the age of 18. For the purpose of this essay, a child is defined as anyone that falls below the compulsory age of schooling in the UK i.e. 16 years of age. Recent years have seen growing public interest in the wellbeing and rights of children within urban environments. In a paper titled ÔThe bubble ‐ wrap generationÕ, Karen Malone argues that nowadays Òmany parents are failing to allow children the opportunities to build the resilience and skills critical to be competent and independent environmental usersÓ (Malone, 2017). In 2016 at the UN-Habitat III conference on housing and urban development, participants came to a Figure 1 - Cars dominate the city     # consensus that cities are to provide equal rights and opportunities for  people of all ages   (Unhabitat.org, 2016). In Creating child friendly cities, Gleeson and Sipe state that these discussions Òmark a resurgence of concern for children in professional, political and popular quarters after a  period of declining interest in the well-being on young peopleÓ   (Gleeson and Sipe, 2012). The primary motivation for urban design is the creation of good places. This raises the question of what constitutes a good place. For many years, this discussion has been dominated by the creation of good places for and  by adults (other groups benefit by proxy). The redesign of the contemporary city in the 20th century has had a significant impact on children. According to Freeman, the advent of private vehicles and resulting urban sprawl has led to a social fragmentation of childrenÕs lives (Gleeson and Sipe, 2012). Places like schools, shops and playgrounds now lack the linkages provided by walking along streets, past familiar people and places. Along with the elderly, children are the most vulnerable members of society and thus require extra care and protection. If the cities and environments that children grow up in enable them to thrive, be active and nurture a sense of belonging and connection to the wider community, it is then highly likely that the wider population will likewise flourish. According to the Routledge Handbook for Health and Mental Wellbeing, street configuration, accessibility, physical activity, safety and autonomy all influence the relationship between the environment and well-being   Figure 2 - The 'bubble-wrap generation'   Figure 3 - Unwelcoming physical space for pedestrians     $ (Barton et al, 2015). Contemporary urban design however, has served to create cities that are not only deficient but sometimes hostile, particularly to children. Traffic and associated noise in residential areas has been shown to have unfavourable impacts on communities, including but not limited to issues of pollution, safety and hostility. These occurrences have driven children further indoors and alienated them from the urban sphere with detrimental implications. THEMES OF CHILD FRIENDLY URBAN DESIGN By the year 2050, 68% of the world's population will be living in urban areas   (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). In the wake of rising urbanisation, planners and designers are compelled to re-evaluate the factors that constitute a good city for children. Although the answer will vary across cultural landscapes, the underlying themes are the same. Children want the freedom to play outdoors, the ability to play get around safely and the chance to explore the natural environment. These three themes are analysed in more detail below. I. WALKABLE AND ACCESSIBLE SPACES A 2017 research found that the chances of a child using a destination decreases beyond around 800m from their home (Rozek, 2017). Meaning that for children, facilities and amenities should ideally be situated at no farther than one kilometer. In order for children to thrive in a community, spaces and facilities that support and encourage social interaction are vital. Meaningful interactions with other members of the community, especially other children help to create a sense of community togetherness. Safe, accessible and inclusive spaces increase opportunities for play and interaction. Urban cities that are characterised by vast outdoor spaces and large distances between buildings result in children preferring to stay in their homes rather than going outdoors. For children, access to streets, friends, shops and parks is of significant importance. In life between buildings, Jan Gehl states that planning decisions have a significant influence on patterns of activities (Gehl, 2011). This principle is further highlighted in a study of childrenÕs play patterns in parts of Denmark. In areas where the density of children per acre was twice as high as in more spread out areas, a four times higher level of play activity was observed (Gehl, 2011). Another report found that the most popular Figure 4 - Children practice martial arts in Barcelona superblocks     % locations for children to play are those whereby there are greater chances of social interactions with others (Wheway and Millward, 1997). In a report titled Housing Design for Community Life, researchers looked at new housing developments around the UK to observe how people used external spaces. They found that children are more likely to spend time outside than adults or elderly people. The schemes that provided spaces for unsupervised play showed better use of external spaces. Researchers also observed that there is a positive correlation between the number of children using external spaces and the number of adults. In other words children are generators of community life, however designers must create enabling environments that encourage and value social interactions (Bornat, 2016). In the UK, homezones have been used in residential streets as a way to reduce traffic flow and reclaim streets for pedestrians and communal activities. Figures 1 and 2 show a residential street in Manchester which has been regenerated as a homezone after residents complained of insecurity caused by vehicular use and absence of child friendly space. Designers responded by restricting vehicular access except for when necessary. The street surfaces were painted in vibrant colours. Trees,  benches and small play areas were also incorporated. Afterwards, residents noted an improvement in their quality of life, increased social interactions and a greater sense of communal belonging(Publicspace.org, 2002). II. SAFE AND ACTIVE STREETS The street is a central space for children to travel through, congregate and interact with one another. It holds a cultural significance for children and the demise of it signals major implications for the wider community as a whole. Between 1971-1990, the percentage of UK school children walking to school unsupervised dropped from 80% down to 9% (Wright, 2014). Parental concern, coupled with car-centric urban design has had significant consequences for childrenÕs independent mobility in urban areas. Unfortunately, built environment professionals like engineers and planners have tended to hold the view that rather than restrict cars or educate drivers better, children are the ones that should be kept indoors away from streets. If at all they are to be outside, they should be accompanied by an adult. Figure 5 - Northmoor homezone Manchester. Before and after.  
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