More than half of the world’s children are growing up in cities. By 2030, up to 60 percent of the world’s urban population will be under 18 years old. Yet, children and families are often invisible to urban planners, developers, and architects when creating city-wide policies that impact transportation, air and noise pollution, and health and well-being. “The truth is that the vast majority of urban planning decisions and projects take no account of their potential impact on children and make no effort to seek children’s views…All too often, this is down to a simple lack of respect for children’s rights or abilities,” writes Tim Gill in his recent book “Urban Playground.”
A critical component of child-friendly urban planning is prioritizing opportunities for learning and healthy development both in and out of school. This is especially important for children living in communities challenged by decades of discrimination and disinvestment. Deep inequalities plague the education systems in many countries, and the COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing educational equity in worrisome ways. In the U.S., persistent economic disparities among families lead to large differences in educational outcomes. Research shows that as early as age 3, children from lower-income households lag behind their more affluent peers in language and spatial skills.
To address both of these needs, cities around the world are beginning to invest in Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL)—installations and programming that promote children and families’ learning through play in the public realm. The climate for building on this momentum could not be more favorable, or the timing more urgent. In the wake of COVID-19, growing numbers of leaders understand the need to rethink neighborhood investments to enhance health, well-being, and economic opportunity—and to reexamine old views on how and where children develop the competencies and skills needed to thrive—and ask how to build on a community’s fund of knowledge to reduce inequities through culturally-informed spaces. In the U.S., these leaders have a once-in-a-generation chance to channel American Rescue Plan funds for innovations in child development and learning—while making cities more vibrant and inclusive.
Read the full article about prioritizing play in urban design by Helen Shwe Hadani, Jennifer S. Vey, Shwetha Parvathy, and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek at Brookings.
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