Designing Cities with Children and Young People
In 2012, the New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People ran a series of seminars from which this book arose. The overall premise of the book is that while the concept of children possessing citizens’ rights has been around since the late 1990s, very little urban planning or design activity is conducted with this in mind, even when projects are supposedly for children. The book explores various intersections between this idea of designing with and for children, and the prevailing concerns in planning such as resilience, the right to public space, the governance of gated communities, and participatory planning. The focus of the articles is on inclusive design processes, rather than designed outcomes.
The book is organised into four sections. First, Global and regional initiatives with local value sets the conceptual and institutional scene. Second, Researching with children and young people, discusses the capacities of children and young people as planners, designers, and researchers, and the barriers to these capacities being fully utilised, for example, the lack of knowledge of these capacities, and the costs of harnessing them. Third, Instruments with impact: legislation and policy, demonstrates the various ways in which children’s rights and capacities to shape the public environments is promoted or hindered by such instruments, either intentionally, or otherwise. Fourth, Perspectives on participatory practices with children and young people, is about the various ways in which the processes that shape public environments can involve children, including within research, education and practice.
There is a misconception that there is very little research work done on this topic. In fact, there is a solid literature. What does not exist for urban designers however is a book that designers might immediately associate with the idea of urban design for children, as Relph or Tuan might be for the idea of place, or McHarg for designing with nature. While this book is not quite a classic for urban design and children, it is quietly inspiring.
If there is a message to take away, it is the subtle one that the ancillary, perhaps unintended and un-trumpeted effects of a community-based planning activity – in this case, those involving children and young people – may turn out to be the most important ones. For instance, if the objective of a planning activity is to get a public space designed, an ancillary one may be that participating children develop citizenship skills. It is a call for designers and planners to listen better and to keep challenging professional assumptions regarding what a good outcome is, and that a good outcome is actually a mix of the experience of the process as well as the design configuration finally built.