Call for Abstracts: Child-friendly Cities

Teardrop Park, New York. 2009 General Design Honor Award Winner. The 14-foot long custom-made stainless steel slide, rested on the side of a bowled land form, and the Wooden Step Seats (foreground) create a social microcosm shared by sliders, climbers, onlookers, diggers, and New York Times readers.  image: Nilda Cosco, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, Raleigh, NC

Teardrop Park, New York. 2009 General Design Honor Award Winner. The 14-foot long custom-made stainless steel slide, rested on the side of a bowled land form, and the Wooden Step Seats (foreground) create a social microcosm shared by sliders, climbers, onlookers, diggers, and New York Times readers.
image: Nilda Cosco, Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design, NC State University, Raleigh, NC

The 4th International Conference on the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families will take place January 12-15, 2015 in San Diego, CA.The conference’s theme is Young People, Borders & Wellbeing, and the call for sessions, papers, and posters will be open until October 15, 2014. Highlighted below is one proposed session of interest on Child-friendly Cities: Critical Approaches. See below for instructions on how to submit an abstract if you would like to be considered for inclusion in this session and in a special issue of the journal Children, Youth and Environments.

Many of the papers within children’s geographies end with some kind of recommendation for the building of child-friendly cities. But what do we mean by child-friendly cities? This workshop will explore different ways of conceptualizing children, cities, child-friendliness and their interrelationships.

Policies aimed at child-friendly cities presuppose that cities are not child-friendly: cities have to change in order to become child-friendly. This supposition reveals an anti-urban way of thinking. It juxtaposes the urban jungle vs. the rural idyll. These contrasting connotations are very much based on the relatively poor provision of outdoor play facilities in urban environments and their assumed abundance in rural environments. But today, enrichment activities have become more prominent in many children’s everyday life. Will this emphasis on enrichment activities change the rural into the urban idyll?

Child-friendly approaches/policies/actions and the conceptualization of children as the ‘same’ as and ‘different’ from adults

In modernist planning, child-friendly interventions often imply creating child-specific facilities and spaces: designated especially and ‘only’ for children. This approach views children as fundamentally different from adults. They are defined as vulnerable and in need of specific protection and provision. Age-specific playgrounds are a good example of this. Another way of creating child-friendly cities is by building inclusive cities in which children’s needs are taken into account without isolating them in their own domains. Wide sidewalks, as advocated by Jane Jacobs, are a good  example. This second approach views children as essentially similar to adults as citizens of the city. The question thus arises: Which of these two approaches is better for creating child-friendly cities? This question, in turn, leads to an examination of different definitions of child-friendliness.

Child-friendly cities and children’s own definitions

What do children themselves consider child-friendly? Do their definitions differ from those held by adults? Furthermore, children are not a homogeneous group. Do we find differences in children’s own definitions of child-friendliness across gender, age group, social class, racial and ethnic background, residential location? And how can we best support children’s participation in city planning and urban development to promote child-friendly outcomes?

This paper session aims to critically explore different issues related to child-friendly cities.

Researchers are invited to send a title and abstract of a maximum of 250 words by August 15, 2014 to both Lia Karsten (c.j.m.karsten@uva.nl) and Willem van Vliet (willem@colorado.edu). Lia and Willem will reply before September 1 and intend to select papers for a special issue of the journal Children, Youth and Environments to be published in 2015-16.

by Lisa Horne, ASLA, a senior associate at Kevin Sloan Studio in Dallas, Texas, and co-chair of the Children’s Outdoor Environment PPN

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