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Incorporating a focus on early childhood development into the planning and management of cities.

If you could see a city from an elevation of 95 cm – the average height of a healthy 3-year-old – what would you do differently?

Urban95 is the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s strategy to work with urban planners, architects, engineers and city managers to incorporate a focus on early childhood development into the planning and management of cities.

Our goal is to support healthier, safer and more exciting urban neighbourhoods for young children, for those who care for them, and for everyone.

Background

In 1950, only 30% of people lived in cities. Today, it is over half. By 2050, it will be 70%. Planning, designing and managing cities has become one of humanity’s defining challenges. Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, rich with opportunities for learning. But they can also pose challenges for families: lack of open, green, safe spaces for children to play and caregivers to meet; long and unpredictable commutes; unsafe housing, pollution and poor sanitation; and, for parents who recently migrated to the city, lack of support networks of extended family and neighbours.

What we work on: Urban95 focus areas

Urban95 cities are working to pilot and scale cost-effective innovations in:

Green public space - Urban95 Green public space
Transforming existing physical spaces into places for young children to play and explore nature, and for their caregivers to meet and rest.
Mobility for families
Making it possible for caregivers and young children to walk or cycle to healthcare, childcare, a safe place to play, and a source of healthy food.
Data-driven decision-making
Collecting neighbourhood-level data on young children and caregivers and using it to better target resources and facilitate coordination across sectors
  Parent coaching
Providing parents and other caregivers with information on early childhood development through the existing services and structures.

What we do: Urban95 partnerships

At the heart of Urban95 are multi-year partnerships with pioneering cities around the world.

We support these cities with technical and financial assistance to pilot and scale innovations in the Urban95 focus areas of public space, mobility, data management and parent coaching.

We also seek out opportunities to introduce young children into the global conversation about the future of cities.

These include:

  • Partnerships with universities and other institutions that train urban planners, designers and managers
  • Convenings that bring together experts in urban issues and in early childhood development
  • Advocacy to make the case for cities that meet the needs of young children and their families

The Urban95 Challenge

The Urban95 Challenge invited creative ideas and projects which promote the well-being of young children in cities from the prenatal period up to the age of 5. We received 151 ideas from 41 countries, with an average budget of EUR 15,000. 26 projects were chosen to received funding.

Geographical distribution of the Urban95 Challenge winning projects

On this page you can read more about the challenge and the winning projects.

Resources

The Kids in Communities Study: what is it about where you live that makes a difference to children’s development?

To date, research in early child development has focused primarily on family and school environments. However, to create positive environments that facilitate optimal development in young children we need to… Read more

Compendium of Best Practices of Child Friendly Cities 2017

Compendium of Best Practices of Child Friendly Cities 2017

This publication showcases examples of ways to make cities friendlier for children and youth, with initiatives drawn from various sources: research studies, award lists, newspaper articles and recommendations from a… Read more

Indicators for CHIld-friendly Local Development

As part of the Child-Friendly Smart Cities initiative, currently being implemented by India’s National Institute of Urban Affairs, this publication provides indicators to assess the gaps relating to child development… Read more

Small children, big cities

Publication ECM123 Small Children, Big Cities

With the world rapidly urbanising, more and more childhoods are being lived in big cities. This ECM explores issues ranging from playground design, "public parenting", and children's voices in urban… Read more

‘Interventions must be low-cost, low-tech, and paired with a public health message’

Interventions - Early Childhood Matters

ARCHIVE (Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments) Global is a non-profit organisation working worldwide to improve housing for health. Founder and Executive Director Peter Williams talks to Early Childhood Matters… Read more

Designing spaces that users can define

Designing spaces that users can define - Early Childhood Matters

Comparing her experiences of living with children in Rome and Chicago, architect Monica Chadha concludes that culture and social norms may be more important than explicit rules in making a… Read more

Blueprints for hope: engaging children as critical actors in urban place making

Third- and fourth-grade elementary school students have been contributing their ideas to the redevelopment of their community in San Francisco, using a methodology known as Y-PLAN (Youth-Plan-Learn-Act, Now!). This article… Read more

Human-centred design and the need for new ideas

Human-centred design and the need for new ideas - Early Childhood Matters

The process of finding ideas for improving urban design so that it caters for the needs of children has to start with understanding what children and families want from their… Read more

‘Cumulative risks need comprehensive responses’

Cumulative risks need comprehensive responses - Early Childhood Matters

Gary Evans is an environmental and developmental psychologist interested in how the physical environment affects human health and well-being among children. Here he talks to Early Childhood Matters about the… Read more

‘Families are beginning to reclaim city centres’

Families are beginning to reclaim city centres - Early childhood Matters

Lia Karsten researches the changing relationship between cities and children. Here she talks to Early Childhood Matters about the historical evolution of childhood in cities in The Netherlands, the experiences… Read more

‘People who grow up in a city that cared for them are more likely to care for their city’

People who grow up in a city that cared for them are more likely to care for their city - Early Childhood Matters

India’s National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) is a think tank attached to the national Ministry of Urban Development. It participates in consultations and serves as a sounding board in… Read more

Living conditions: The influence on young children's health

Publication ECM118 Living conditions: The influence on young children's health

This edition of Early Childhood Matters explores the links between the living conditions that children grow up in and their health and development around the world. Read more

Child-friendly cities – sustainable cities

Child-friendly cities

How can planners integrate the environmental experiences that children have into the processes of planning for sustainable development? Studies show that children aged 11–12 years, and professionals with a child-centred… Read more

Improving living conditions for the Roma minority in Europe

Improving living conditions for the Roma minority in Europe - Early Childhood Matters

Alexandros Tsolakis works as a policy expert at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Regional Policy. Here he talks to Early Childhood Matters about how the EC’s ongoing work on… Read more

Children growing up in Indian slums: Challenges and opportunities for new urban imaginations

The physical environments of slums present many challenges to residents, particularly children. Even so, there are thriving communities in slums with strong social and economic networks. This article looks at… Read more

Working with youth to improve the built environment

Working with youth to improve the built environment - Early Childhood Matters

YouthBuild International and the Bernard van Leer Foundation began in 2011 to explore ways to work together. This article explains how YouthBuild’s programmes engage unemployed young people in building infrastructure,… Read more

Knowing, participating, transforming: A research and social mobilisation experience in a low-income Brazilian community

A research and social mobilisation experience in a low-income Brazilian community - Early Childhood Matters

Action from public authorities is often necessary to solve problems of children being exposed to unhealthy environments. However, such action must be based on sound data establishing the extent of… Read more

Healthy Environments

Publication ECIF8 Healthy Environments

Textbooks typically give much less attention to the physical environment in which children grow up than to their social environment, yet the physical environment is intimately linked to growth and… Read more

Young children in cities: Challenges and opportunities

Young children in cities: Challenges and opportunities - Early Childhood Matters

This edition of Early Childhood Matters looks at young children’s experiences of growing up in urban settings. A quarter of the world’s children live in poor urban settlements - a… Read more

Children living in urban poverty: A global emergency, a low priority

Among the world’s rapidly expanding urban populations, poverty is having catastrophic implications for millions of young children. However, in the context of good governance and well supported grassroots organizations, urban… Read more

Making Rotterdam child-friendly: “Cooperation and a wide-angle view are key”

Rotterdam has a reputation within the Netherlands and beyond for its progressive approach to social policy and its focus on improving life for the city’s children – in particular the… Read more

A safe passage to adulthood: Reaching slum children through women-led savings

Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) is an international alliance of slum dweller organisations in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which originated in 1991 when slum dwellers from South… Read more

Hope for the children of Juarez

As the new ‘ground zero’ in the war on drugs – and the homicide capital of the world – Ciudad Juarez in Mexico is a challenging place in which to… Read more

The urban experience of young Roma children

In its work at regional level within the EU, the Bernard van Leer Foundation focuses on Roma populations, who across Europe face higher risks of discrimination and difficult living conditions. Read more

Freeing children to contribute: Building child-friendly cities in the Asia Pacific region

Building child-friendly cities in the Asia Pacific region - Early Childhood Matters

Large sections of many cities in the Asia-Pacific region are effectively out of bounds for children, whose freedom to explore their urban environments is limited by a lack of child-friendly… Read more

Inspiring slum children through education: a story from Delhi

Inspiring slum children through education: a story from Delhi An experience of early comprehensive care with children under 3 years old - Early Childhood Matters

In a personal account of the 22 years since she set up Katha (which means ‘story’ in most Indian languages), Geeta Dharmarajan reflects on how education services can inspire children… Read more

Community classrooms for the all-round protection of Petare’s boys and girls

In an area of Caracas where street violence has become a normal part of everyday life, and where children grow up admiring and wanting to emulate the leaders of local… Read more

Setting our agenda on early learning, violence and physical environment

Setting our agenda on early learning, violence and physical environment - Early Childhood Matters

This edition of Early Childhood Matters offers a first introduction to the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s thinking as we flesh out our new goals for the period 2010 to 2015. Read more

A view from the Netherlands: The status of children in local government spatial planning

The status of children in local government spatial planning - Early Childhood Matters 2010

This article describes spatial planning processes at local government level in the Netherlands in relation to opportunities for children to play and explore the outdoors close to home: in their… Read more

Improving the life chances of low-income young children in urban Brazil

The Bernard van Leer Foundation commissioned CIESPI (International Center for Research and Policy on Childhood) to study opportunities and challenges presented by the Foundation’s three new goals – reducing violence,… Read more

Space to play: Experiences from São Paulo

Ato Cidadão (Citizen Act) works with the Project Estação Atitude Cidadã in communities of São Paulo where children are especially at risk. Together they support the creation, organisation and consolidation… Read more