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Our cities are failing children – let’s change the way we plan


If we're to create towns and cities that are attuned to children's needs, then we will have to change our approach to urban planning, argues Olafiyin Taiwo

In 2007 the United Nations Population Fund estimated that by 2030 some 60 per cent of the world’s city-dwellers would be under 18. Current UN estimates are that 30 per cent of the total global population is under 19. Even though they are a significant proportion of the urban population, the interests of young people are continually overlooked.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that road traffic injuries are the leading causes of death for 15-19-year-olds, and globally the second leading cause for those aged one to 14.

In 2016 the OECD estimated that the number of overweight children under five to be 41 million globally and this was predicted to increase steadily until 2030. WHO also says youth violence in cities has become the fifth leading cause of death in young people.

Residential instability caused by limited availability of affordable housing has been linked to absenteeism and frequent school changes. Poor infrastructure and declining provision for non-motorised transport have led to increasing concerns about road safety, personal security, local congestion and air quality. 

"Land use policy has changed neighbourhood parks, playgrounds and sport courts to housing units while youth centres shut their doors because of financial stress"

Land use policy has changed neighbourhood parks, playgrounds and sport courts to housing units while youth centres shut their doors because of financial stress.

Urban planning plays a key role in creating an environment that consistently improves the quality of life of young people. According to UN-Habitat, children and young people can be viewed as assets and influential actors in the design and implementation of sustainable urban development and resilient cities.  

We know that engagement with the physical and spatial environment is critical to cognitive, social and emotional development. We know also that interactions outside the classroom provide the chances to interpret and relate to what is taught in the classroom. How children and young people relate to their physical environment should influence how cities are planned.

Perhaps the complex and multifaceted nature of urban challenges is beyond the scope of urban planning.

Perhaps designing cities that consider the needs of the young requires recognition that the prevailing challenges cannot be resolved by a single sector independently.

Perhaps we need to recognise that this requires a multi-sectoral approach that pulls together the expertise of public, private and non-profit actors, while urban planners play a role of convener, partner, mediator, facilitator.

Olafiyin Taiwo is a senior planning policy officer with Be First Regeneration Limited and Co-founder of Life Brooks International


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