Creating healthy, prosperous and vibrant cities where babies, toddlers and their families thrive
If you could experience a city from 95cm – the height of a 3-year-old – what would you change? Urban95 asks this bold but simple question of the world’s urban leaders, planners, designers and managers.
Urban95 is the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s initiative to make lasting change in the landscapes and opportunities that shape the crucial first five years of children’s lives.
Urban95 is rooted in the belief that when urban neighbourhoods work well for babies, toddlers and the people who care for them, they also tend to nurture strong communities and economic development.
Today, more than a billion children live in cities. Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, but they can also pose serious challenges for healthy child development – with consequences for the next generation of adults.
To develop to their full potential, young children need frequent, warm, responsive interactions with loving adults and a safe, stimulating physical environment to explore.
Both of these things are often in short supply in a city. Dense neighbourhoods; poor access to nature; long, unpredictable and even dangerous commutes; crowded housing; poor sanitation; isolation; stress; and lack of access to affordable healthcare and childcare make it harder for children to explore safely – and for caregivers to interact with their children in ways that promote healthy development.
The spatial needs of young children also differ from those of older children and adults. Babies and toddlers:
- experience the world at a much smaller scale, depend on others to move around, and have a far shorter range of mobility than the typical city dweller.
- are particularly vulnerable to air and noise pollution.
- need to travel regularly to early childhood services such as well-baby clinics and childcare.
- are always to be found with their caregivers.
To create environments that enable nurturing care, it is crucial for urban planners, designers, developers and cities to understand how children’s and caregivers’ surroundings influence their needs and experiences – physical, social and emotional, cognitive and spatial.
Why cities benefit from Urban95
Focusing on babies, toddlers and their caregivers does not only make a city’s young children more likely to develop to their full potential – it makes a city better for everyone.
The wellbeing of babies, toddlers and their caregivers is the best measure of a vibrant, prosperous and healthy city. When city leaders make decisions that work for the youngest residents, they also tend to have a wider positive impact:
- Walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods that cater for the basics a young family needs within 15 minutes on foot are attractive for everyone.
- Lively, green public spaces close to home that offer amenities for caregivers while allowing small children to explore safely attract all generations and may create higher economic value for a city.
- Safe transport routes and transit systems that make it easy, reliable, affordable and enjoyable for families with young children to travel where they need to go are also more likely to work for older people and those with disabilities.
- Air quality is most important for the health of young children, but important for everyone else’s health as well – and becoming a major public and political concern in cities all over the world.
Young children can be a powerful, easy-to-understand cause for mobilising political and public will for a broad range of initiatives. As one mayor we spoke with said, ‘There’s a natural and broad constituency of support when it comes to children‘.
What Urban95 focuses on
While many elements of urban life impact on children’s healthy development, Urban95 focuses on:
Family-friendly urban planning and design: Using the lens of families and their needs to influence the design and regulation of the uses of space, with a focus on the physical form, functions, health impacts and social support networks of an urban area and on the location of different activities within it.
Healthy environments for children: Focusing on aspects of the natural and built environment affecting children’s development.