Connect Karo-2021: Cities that work for children can work for all, say experts
New Delhi: It is increasingly becoming difficult to find safe, open, accessible spaces for children, specially in residential neighbourhoods due to rampant commercialisation, experts said while stressing on the need to plan city infrastructure from perspective of children, as “cities that work for the very young are likely to work for all”.
They said though this aspect was missing from urban planning process for a very long time, it was gaining importance with several cities such as Udaipur, Pune, Bhubaneswar and Rajkot planning projects to make neighbourhoods child-friendly.
Rushda Majeed, India representative, Bernard Van Leer Foundation, said as part of their Urban 95 project the foundation is working with governments to make cities child-friendly.
“It is not just children, but their caregivers, especially mothers, who find it difficult to access neighbourhood facilities,” said Majeed. She said slight modification in existing policies and urban development plans keeping children in mind can make all the difference.
Speaking at WRI India’s Connect Karo-2021 on Wednesday, Majeed said, “Cities that work for the very young are likely to work for all.”
Hindustan Times is the media partner of the event.
This has become even more important due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Tim Gill, independent scholar, consultant, and author of ‘Urban Playground: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities’.
Gill said, “We have become aware of the importance of local spaces, of being able to travel locally and spend time outdoors (during this pandemic). While children were barely affected by the disease itself, they probably are the worst impacted. They have suffered the worst due to the measures (staying indoors) we had to take to control the disease. We owe them or have to compensate them for the sacrifice they have made in the last year.”
He said providing accessible, green, joyful spaces in the neighbourhood is a way forward. “If you see children of different age groups, with or without their parents, being active and visible in a city, then that’s the sign of the health of that human habitat,” Gill said.
Last year, the ministry of housing and urban affairs launched the nurturing neighbourhood challenge in collaboration with Bernard Van Leer Foundation and WRI India. The ministry has shortlisted 25 out of 65 cities to implement pilot projects to make them child-friendly.
To make neighbourhood child-friendly, there is a need to create a sense of ownership in the community, said Swati Janu, architect and founder of Social design Collaborative.
“Community engagement is crucial while developing child-friendly neighbourhoods, as it is they who will have to be involved in its maintenance. Communities have to be involved in the projects right from the beginning so that there is a sense of ownership,” said Janu.
It is not just accessibility to neighbourhood facilities or parks which has to be improved, making streets children-friendly is equally important, said Sarika Panda, associate director and co-founder of Nagarro and Raahgiri Foundation.
Panda, who has been actively working with government agencies to make streets more accessible to all, said, “Streets are a public space, and most inclusive spaces. Therefore, it should be safe for all. The streets should be for everyone and not just for cars. There is a need to rethink our streets. As part of Raahgiri day, we cordon off a portion of the streets and allow people to reclaim it.”
An important aspect of making cities child-friendly is to ensure road safety. Dedicated cycle lanes, pedestrian pathways etc are needed to make streets safer and minimise road accidents. Also, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) can help in minimising road accidents, said Anand Mishra, professor of computer science and engineering at IIT Jodhpur.
“AI has several interesting solutions. There is need for more research, engineering efforts and India specific datasets, as the challenges on Indian roads are different (from western countries),” said Mishra.