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When children walk through the city, they experience their surroundings from a height of 90-130cm on average (children between 2 and 8 years). A perspective that adults rarely take. Intersections, paths, parks and also recreational facilities such as playgrounds are usually planned from the adult perspective. The result is not infrequently the adult idea of spaces for children.
However, to find out how children perceive their environment, it makes sense to change the perspective and focus more on the child level. How do children see their urban environment, which is as much a part of their everyday life as it is of ours? Where do they play and why? A change of perspective can help to get a whole new view of a neighbourhood.
Children not only see their surroundings from a different height, but also from a different point of view. Read the article "When kids put on their urban planner hats – cities are better for everyone" and learn why children should definitely be involved in urban planning processes. Take the time to learn more about the opinions and recommendations of children and young people about their neighbourhoods and actively involve them in planning processes.
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Your town or neighbourhood shall become more child-friendly. Therefore, it could be examined how routes used by children can be made safer. In addition, it could be investigated how the existing playgrounds are used and adapted to the needs of children. When working on this task you should involve children actively and take their interests into account.
To start with, we would like you to ask children to show their favourite places in the neighbourhood to you. To do this, invite a group of children to take a walk with them through their neighbourhood. You are the observer on these walks and let the children guide you. The children decide which routes they’ll take, the places they’ll show you and also for how long you will be with them on that tour. Let them show you the places where they play and spend time - especially those places that are off the official playgrounds.
Use these walks as a first step of an analysis and discover unknown corners of the neighbourhood from a new perspective.
You want children to be actively involved in the design and planning of neighbourhoods or communities and to be able to represent their interests. You’ll therefore invite children as users of the neighbourhood and experts to participate in the process of developing the analysis of the current state. Children will be given the opportunity to independently evaluate their living environment, define favourite places or point out difficult corners and perhaps even formulate initial proposals for change.
You’ll invite a group of children to go on a walk with you through their neighbourhood or town. You are the observer that accompanies the group and is guided through the area. If there is a large number of children or very different age groups, several groups should be formed and accompanied.
Follow children on their daily routes. Observe or ask (during the walk or afterwards using a map) how children move around the neighbourhood and where they stay. Here are some questions to consider:
- What landmarks do they set to find their way around?
- Which places do they feel comfortable in/ which places do they avoid?
- Where is the best place to play/ to meet friends/ to shop?
- What could be better or what place would they like to change?
- How do they move around the city - public transport, parents, alone?
- In which places do they experience difficulties, where are pedestrian crossings or traffic lights missing?
Observe how children use planned spaces such as playgrounds and if there are spaces that they “misuse”, such as the empty supermarket car park as a cycle track. In particular, let them show you the hidden corners and places that often remain unseen by adults.
What insights can be gained from the behaviour that you have observed? And what conclusions can be drawn from this?
Afterwards, you could talk to the children in more detail with the help of a city map. Recapitulate their walk and discuss the places and routes they saw. Encourage the children to make comments and suggestions for improvement.
In order to know what children and adolescents need to feel comfortable in their living environment, it makes sense to take their perspective and enter into an exchange with them. Since children are not always able to verbally communicate their views due to their cognitive development, observation is essential in addition to listening.
In order to make cities and communities child-friendly, it is indispensable to involve children and young people in the planning processes. The change of perspective shown here by means of walks as a form of analysing the current state can be a first step in this process. But this target group should also be involved in the further steps of the planning process. It is important to agree on obligations in advance: only if the ideas and suggestions of the children and young people are seriously examined, followed up and finally implemented can interest in joint planning and trust in the planners be maintained.
- The participants are aware of the importance of including children and young people in the urban planning process in order to be able to take the perspective of this age group and meet requirements, and they know methods of integrating the group.
- Participants know the need for a change of perspective in projects for children and young people.
- Participants know the advantages of involving children in urban planning processes.
- Users can engage in dialogue with other user groups to determine different requirements for places and neighbourhoods.
- Participants know the importance of active observation and listening and can implement this.
- Participants are able to take the perspective of another user group, to perceive and respond to the needs of these groups.
- Participants are able to draw conclusions about the requirements and needs of other user groups for urban places by observing them.
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