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Creating healthy, prosperous and vibrant cities where babies, toddlers and their families can 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 city leaders, planners, architects, and innovators.

Urban95 is the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s, 30 million euro 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 pregnant women, babies, toddlers and young children, they also tend to nurture strong communities and economic development.

Background

More than half the world’s population lives in cities; by 2050, it will be 70%. Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, rich with opportunities for learning. Yet urban environments can also pose challenges to families with young children:

  • Unsafe streets and limited public transport options can make it a struggle to get around to childcare, doctors, shops, or just out for a walk;
  • Poor air quality affects infants and young children more than healthy adults;
  • As urban populations expand, newcomers may be far from extended family and find it difficult to make friends who can support them with back up childcare, advice, or just a listening ear.

Research shows that children’s early experiences have effects that last a lifetime. Cities which give their young children a good start in life are helping to shape new generations of productive workers and upstanding citizens.

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
Surrounding parents with ideas for ways to incorporate play and storytelling into daily routines, and nurture their children’s fast-developing brains.

What we do:

Urban95 city partnerships

The Bernard van Leer Foundation will provide technical and financial support to multi-year, citywide Urban95 initiatives in selected partner cities focused on: 1) parent coaching; 2) public green space; 3) increasing families’ options to move safely around their communities; and 4) using data to inform city decision-making across agencies and sectors.

We have so far formally launched partnerships with Bogota, Tel Aviv and Bhubaneswar. We are also exploring partnerships with Recife and Istanbul, have seed projects in Lima, Sao Paolo, Tirana, Boa Vista and Amsterdam, and are looking for another partner city in India.

Global dialogue about young children and cities

From partnerships with city-focused research and training institutions to trade publications and convenings such as CityLab, we are spreading the idea that the best measure of a vibrant, prosperous, and healthy city is the well-being of the babies, toddlers and families who live there.

Urban95 Challenge

The first Urban95 Challenge was launched in 2016. A global call for innovations to promote well-being for young children and their families in the places where they live, learn, work and play. It attracted 151 ideas from 41 countries with an average budget of EUR 15,000. Our review panel chose 26 cutting-edge ideas to receive funding. These are showcasing a range of actions cities can take now to improve the lives of young children and their families:

Geographical distribution of the Urban95 Challenge winning projects

Resources

Comparative Global Study of Urban Spaces to Support Parents

How can designated spaces for parents and children be established within existing municipal infrastructure such as community centres? What needs should these spaces focus on meeting? What services and programmes… Read more

An Urban95 Starter Kit - ideas for action

An Urban95 Starter Kit - ideas for action - Bernard van Leer Foundation

This publication is a collection of promising ideas encountered so far in the Bernard van Leer Foundation's Urban95 initiative. Aimed primarily at city and local government leaders and managers, politicians,… Read more

Child-friendly urban design - Observations on public space from Eindhoven (NL) and Jerusalem (IL)

Child-friendly urban design - Bernard van Leer Foundation

This report presents findings on urban design solutions for increasing child-friendliness at the neighbourhood level based on a project funded by the Bernard van Leer Foundation. It reviews the literature… Read more

Mix & Match - Tools to design urban play

Mix & Match - Tools to design urban play

This toolkit provides possible design interventions to create more inclusive play environments from the street to the neighbourhood. It is aimed at stakeholders including policy-makers, designers, planners, architects, NGOs and… Read more

Playing it safe? - A global white paper on risk, liability and children’s play in public space

White paper - Playing it safe? - Tim Gill - Bernard van Leer Foundation

Available data suggests that playgrounds are comparatively safe places – yet, in many countries, concerns about potential liability for injury have led to bureaucratic risk reduction initiatives that might not… Read more

Space to Grow - Ten principles that support happy, healthy families in a playful, friendly city

Space to Grow - Gehl Institute and Gehl

In partnership with the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Urban95 initiative, this paper by Gehl Institute and Gehl briefly distils 10 initial findings from research to explore how public spaces in… Read more

Services for children and family in Istanbul district municipalities

This report summarises how the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) produced an interactive map of services for children and families across 39 district municipalities in Istanbul, correlated with… Read more

How dashboards can help cities improve early childhood development

How dashboards can help cities improve early childhood development

Data dashboards can help cities to set priorities, monitor progress, encourage collaboration, inform decisions, increase accountability, and strengthen the voices of children. Based on interviews with experts and practitioners, this… Read more

Building Better Cities with Young Children and Families

Building Better Cities with Young Children and Families - Bernard van Leer Foundation

For the most part, the voices of young children, their parents and caregivers, and pregnant women have been underrepresented in traditional city building processes and overall civic engagement strategies. Using… Read more

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