Incorporating children's needs in urban development - Hindustan Times
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Incorporating children's needs in urban development

ByHindustan Times
Oct 05, 2023 02:43 PM IST

Authored by - Hitesh Vaidya, director, and Krishna Kant Pandey, team leader, ITCN Capacity Building Programme, National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi.

India is home to an astounding 472 million children aged 0–18, as revealed by the 2011 Census. This vibrant demographic constitutes 39% of the nation's populace, with 128.5 million children dwelling in urban areas. Within this demographic, the age group of 0-6 years encompasses 158.7 million children. The trajectory of a nation's future relies profoundly on nurturing its children. Each child has an inherent right to play, explore, learn, and embrace opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances or urban location. However, regrettably, the needs of these children are inadequately addressed in urban planning and development.

Children
Children

Former vice-president Venkaiah Naidu rightly expressed, "Urban planning and development must nurture children's talents, creativity, and aspirations." As adults, we often take our freedom to roam, explore, and meet our needs for granted. In sharp contrast, young children find themselves confined within a specific radius, including the streets and spaces in front of their homes and immediate facilities like parks and schools. Therefore, addressing their needs is essential by focusing on neighbourhood-level planning, such as Local Area Plans (LAPs) and Town Planning Schemes (TPs). The onus lies on communities, local authorities, and policymakers to allocate the necessary resources to enhance the quality of public spaces. These spaces, ranging from streets and parks to play areas, schools, and healthcare services, must embody universally accessible design principles, including features like wheelchair-accessible entrances and paths, stroller ramps on stairs, parks designed for easy navigation, sidewalks of suitable height for young children, and the provision of low benches. Thoughtful considerations regarding these elements can significantly contribute to creating inviting, safe, and nurturing environments that promote the well-being of our youngest citizens.

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The constraint on a young child's interaction highlights the urgent need for adequate recreational spaces in neighbourhoods, acknowledging the pivotal role that parks and open spaces play for young children and their caregivers. These spaces serve as venues for physical activities and platforms for making friends, sharing experiences, and developing interpersonal skills. Outdoor play is vital for physical, social, emotional, and imaginative growth. Thus, neighbourhood parks should ideally be well-maintained and accessible, offering sensory-rich experiences and opportunities for social interaction.

However, the reality often deviates from this ideal. Take the case of Nemvati, a resident of the densely populated 'Gandhi Camp Slum' in Srinivaspuri, Delhi. In her care are two children: an eight-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Despite her desire to take her children to a nearby park, she refrains due to the park's lack of amenities for both children and parents. "I avoid visiting the park with my children due to inadequate green space, insufficient seating arrangements, and a lack of cleanliness," she explains. Unfortunately, poorly maintained parks with missing play structures, swings, and slides hinder children's motor skills development and restrict their access to essential unstructured play. Where these structures exist, lack of maintenance leads to broken equipment in unkempt parks, posing safety risks and failing to stimulate children's curiosity and creativity.

Likewise, other early childhood development services, such as anganwadis (community health and childcare centres), pre-schools, and crèche facilities, also hold a special status for early childhood development and should be child- and caregiver-friendly. Engaging the local community as stakeholders at every stage of projects centred around young children is imperative for ensuring long-term sustainability. To make our cities more child-friendly, there is an urgent need to establish a dedicated 'nodal person’ at the ULBs level to oversee the concerns of the children. The nodal person should act as a contact person and coordinator for all early childhood-related initiatives at the city level. Furthermore, initiatives geared towards early childhood development should be executed at the city level, fostering the exchange of insights and best practices that can be replicated in other cities.

One noteworthy initiative addressing this area falls under India’s Smart Cities Mission, focusing on developing the Infant, Toddler, and Caregiver-Friendly Neighbourhood (ITCN) Framework. This comprehensive framework guides local authorities, empowering them with the tools to create holistic neighbourhoods. It calls for acquiring skills, tools, and approaches to view a city through children's lenses to promote early childhood development. Suggested ITC-centric features include incorporating sensory and natural elements in the gardens, playful interactive walls, vibrant flooring, age-appropriate play structures, diverse themes for young children's physical and cognitive development, and providing comfortable seating arrangements for caregivers.

Recently, cities have undertaken initiatives by incorporating provisions to enhance public spaces' safety, inclusivity, and vibrancy for all users, particularly children, individuals with disabilities, pregnant women, and the elderly, in their master plans. Various sections of these plans, including those related to the environment, heritage, culture, public spaces, shelter, social infrastructure, transport, and mobility, include considerations for children. These encompass special greening projects, earmarking play areas and anganwadis, incorporating child-friendly street design elements, and enhancing safety through natural surveillance. The overarching objective is to bring about lasting changes in the landscapes and opportunities that shape the crucial first five years of children’s lives.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 underscores the importance of creating inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities. Given this backdrop, designing and planning public spaces catering to young children and their caregivers require a concerted effort to realise SDG 11.

Authored by - Hitesh Vaidya, director, and Krishna Kant Pandey, team leader, ITCN Capacity Building Programme, National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi.

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