Six Fast Facts – What Kids Need in Cities

April 22, 2015


In recent decades, our cities and our ideas around childhood and parenting have changed a lot, however, one of the most significant changes is that children are disappearing from our cities’ public places and outdoor spaces.


1) Kids Need Cities They can Explore On Their Own

This article, mentions Free-Range Parenting, a type of parenting that gives children more freedom to explore their communities without constant adult supervision.  Research is also beginning to show that over-protective parenting may be one cause of increased anxiety and depression in youth. What better reason to develop more walkable, bikeable, slower-traffic streets?


2) Kids Need Cities with Less Vehicle Traffic and Fewer Parking Lots

In a project done with over 1000 schools and recreation groups, children said traffic and parking was one of the biggest things stopping them from going outdoors and into public spaces. Mark Francis and Ray Lorenzo, two researchers who have led many urban design projects with kids, agree that our cities need more narrow, shared streets, where cars are slowed to around 16 km/hr by the presence of more trees, planters or other objects on the street.


3) Kids Need Schools Close Enough to Walk or Bike to

We know that the number of children walking and biking to school has been dropping, and we are now beginning to understand the effects this has on children’s health, on air quality where children spend their time and on traffic problems. The Public Health Agency of Canada finds that only 1 out of 10  children and youth  meet Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines,  and 20% of morning rush hour traffic is due to parents driving children to school. Check out Calgary’s upcoming Bike to School Day, Mayor Nenshi’s Walk or Roll to School Challenge or the Walking School Bus concept  for some interesting ways to get kids walking to school.


4) Kids Need to Help Manage The Spaces in Cities That are Dedicated to Them

Francis and Lorenzo, found that children and youth want to help in designing and building playgrounds, parks, art centres and community centres, but most notably, they want to be involved in managing these spaces and deciding how they are used.


5) Kids Need a Say in How Our Cities are Designed

City planning used to be a very political and technical process, however in recent decades, we have started to understand city planning as being a social and cultural process and have begun to include communities, groups and individuals in design conversations. Because children have some unique needs compared to other age groups, it is important to involve them in all levels of decision-making. Check out these 5 methods on how to involve youth in community and transportation planning.


6) We Need a Culture Shift

When researching what kids need in our cities, it became increasingly clear that urban design changes can only do so much.  We also need to shift our understandings of children’s independence and safety. This article argues that we are unwilling to give children freedom to explore neighbourhoods on their own because of fears of abduction or crime.  Crime, however, has declined a lot in the last two decades, while the number of children killed as as passengers or pedestrians has increased. In order to involve children in decision-making processes and have their needs recognized, we need to change the way we think about safety and children’s independence in our cities.


Want to Learn More?

UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative –


The Canadian Institute of Planner’s Kids Guide to Building Great Communities


Parachute’s Child Pedestrian injuries report



This blog post was written for Active Neighbourhoods and Sustainable Calgary. View the rest of the post at:

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