London becomes the classroom for the Urban95 Academy residence week

Published July 5, 2022

In May 2022, 27 committed city officials from 10 cities arrived in London to take part in five intensive days of in-person teaching, workshops and site visits during the Urban95 Academy residence week at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Photo: Courtesy of Catarina Heeckt

Each of the cities were invited to participate in the learning experience based on their proposals to solve a local challenge and make their hometown a better place for babies, toddlers and their caregivers.

Bratislava, Slovakia and Fortaleza, Brazil both want to see its streets become places for play and not parking for cars; Torres Vedras, Portugal wants to see more children biking or walking to and from school; Tirana, Albania envisions a future where accessible public spaces are everywhere with citizens taking charge; Korle Klottey, Ghana wants to bring children back into the heart of the city by reinvigorating its underutilised children’s park; Udaipur, India and Lima, Peru both envision more green, healthy and pollution-free spaces accessible for all children throughout the city; Tel Aviv, Israel’s built environment is developing so rapidly that the development of babies and toddlers is at risk with a lack of safe and healthy outdoor spaces; London Borough of Waltham Forrest, UK wants to centre the needs of children in their plan to develop a 15-minute neighbourhood; and Caruaru, Brazil wants to make childcare accessible for everyone and create safe and fun routes to get there.

“Engaging with 30 city leaders in London is helping the LSE convene a global movement to bring the early childhood development agenda as a top priority for urban leaders and designers.” Savvas Verdis, Co-director, Executive Masters in Cities at LSE Cities.

Photo: Courtesy of Catarina Heeckt

The residence week programme took the themes from the Academy’s 6-week online course off the screen and into the city of London, where the learning environment proved as influential as the knowledge content.

Walking tours in London enabled participants to view the city through the eyes of young children. Leading participants through a redeveloped area of Islington, Tim Gill and Liz Kessler demonstrated that by connecting play and quality public spaces in urban design, parts of the neighbourhood were transformed into healthier family-friendly spaces that Londoners want to spend time in. Dinah Bornat from ZCD Architects shared the journey of the development of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from polluted industrial outskirt to Olympic village to an urban green corridor where families can spend time together in nature.

Lessons were not only learnt from successful initiatives, but also ongoing struggles. Participants heard how families with young children living in London still face many day-to-day challenges from air pollution, impacting the physical and mental development of babies and toddlers. Experiencing first hand mobility challenges such as public busses that allow no more than two strollers on board at a time, shed light on how transport can be improved to support young children and caregivers. Participants also saw how housing costs and a lack of proximity to services entrench inequality and limit access to opportunities for low-income parents and their young children.

Back at the LSE campus, in-person campaign building and media training, and a behaviour change workshop helped the city leaders rethink how to approach their local challenges – enabling them to bring in fresh ideas and different perspectives, changing their mindsets on how to best tackle the issues they face at home.

Now graduates of the course, the first cohort of the Urban95 Academy have returned to their municipalities with more tools, knowledge and connections to turn their ideas of a better urban environment for young children into a reality. Over the next six months they will receive technical assistance based on their challenges from leading organisations such as Arup, GDCI, Superpool, Gehl and Qendra Marrëdhënie.

To learn more (re)watch the public lecture on ‘Planning and designing cities for the early years’, featuring Cecilia Vaca Jones, Superpool’s Selva Gürdogan and Clean Air Fund’s Sean Maguire below.

For more information on how to get involved in the Urban95 Academy visit