Tag Archives: child-friendly cities

Moving ‘Policy for Play’ to a new platform

27 Nov

A message from Adrian Voce

This simple blogsite has been my platform, since 2011, for news, articles and op-ed pieces about all matters related to policy for children’s play.

As part of the establishment of my new not-for-profit, Playful Planet, a new platform has been developed that will now include Policy for Play content, together with a wider array of posts on the themes of children’s play and child-friendly places.

Do please visit the new site www.playfulplanet.org.uk, where you can sign up to receive regular updates.

This site will remain open for a few weeks, but will no longer receive new posts. In due course, we will close it down and archive its content on the Playful Planet site.

Thereafter, visitors to policyforplay.com will be redirected to the new site.

Thank you for visiting Policy for Play. I hope you will enjoy the new site even more.

The work to promote effective policy for children’s play continues…

Adrian Voce

Putting children at the heart of urban planning: a call for action

24 Oct

Authors: Tim Gill, Adrian Voce, Darell Hammond and Mariana Brussoni

Four leading advocates make the case for placing children at the centre of urban planning. This offers a compelling vision for cities, and paves the way for action that matches up to the enormity of the task facing city leaders.

Cities around the world are failing children. 30 years after the launch of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which aimed to make children’s needs and views central in policy making – most cities are hostile if not life-threatening places for their youngest inhabitants.

The global death toll of children on the roads is surely the most shocking illustration of the failure of urban planning. Road traffic is the leading global cause of death among people aged 15–29, and the second highest single cause of death for children aged 5–14.

The lives of urban children are also blighted by polluted air (much of it caused by road traffic). Around 2 billion globally live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international limits, and almost 300 million live in areas where levels are considered to be toxic. Worldwide, around 127,000 children under the age of 5 die each year from outdoor air pollution [pdf link].

Poor urban planning restricts children’s play and mobility, fuelling the global epidemic of child obesity: a public health problem whose existence would have staggered experts back in the 1970s. It also plays a part in rising levels of adolescent mental health problems, by preventing many children from developing resilience early in life through opportunities for independence.

Of course, children are not the only ones suffering from failed urban planning. To quote Enrique Peñalosa’s memorable phrase, they are an ‘indicator species’ for cities. The sight of children being active and visible in public space is a sign not just of their own wellbeing, but of a generally healthy, liveable urban environment.

Meanwhile – as growing numbers of young people around the world are telling us, with voices at once clear, insistent and persuasive – cities are struggling to respond to the climate crisis. And aside from a handful of cities in high-income countries, they are failing here too. In the vast majority, rapid urbanization and unplanned growth are storing up huge problems for our future.

Why children should be at the heart of urban planning

In our view – and as backed up by a growing body of evidence – the most compelling response to the problems of urbanization, and to the call for climate action, is for children to be at the heart of urban planning. This article lays out the principles and strategic actions that flesh out this view.

As longstanding, committed advocates for children’s play, we honour the importance children attach to the ability to play freely out of doors, even in circumstances where adult eyes see more pressing priorities. Outdoor play supports children’s health and development in ways that other activities like structured sport or indoor play do not. It is central to our vision of a city that works for children.

But this does not mean that the solution is to create playgrounds (valuable though they may be). In too many cities, traffic-dominated streets carve up neighbourhoods, leaving children and families cut off from nearby parks and play areas.

Mobility unlocks neighbourhoods and the wider city for children and their caregivers.

Mobility unlocks neighbourhoods and the wider city for children and their caregivers. For the vast majority – and especially poorer families – mobility means walking. Walkability is the glue that holds neighbourhoods together. Hence fundamental to a child-friendly urban future is a shift away from car-centric planning and towards walking (and cycling, a gateway to expanding children’s horizons as they grow up).

The phrase ‘everyday freedoms’ – as adopted by the global planning and engineering firm Arup – neatly sums up our vision for children’s play and mobility. It is tempting to see this notion as a ‘nice to have’: a luxury compared to policy priorities like sanitation or schooling, especially in low- and middle-income contexts. But a moment’s thought shows this is mistaken. Education is a case in point. Making it safe and easy for children to get to and from school is hardly a ‘nice to have’. Rather, it is an indispensable part of the goal of securing universal access to education.

What needs to happen now

The problems of car-dominated neighbourhoods, inadequate and poorly-designed public space and environmental pollution must be tackled head-on. We do not need to wait for children to raise these issues (though they have been doing so for decades, in cities the world over).

Indeed, a shift in emphasis is needed, from process and participation to outcomes and impact, drawing on robust data and sound evaluations. Helpful though children’s participation is, the best measure of progress is positive change in the everyday lives of whole populations of children.

In an emerging field like this one, there is still much to learn. But we know enough to say that programmes must address children of all ages from birth through adolescence, focus on the residential neighbourhoods where most families live, and prioritise the marginalised communities who suffer the most from poor urban environments.

We are also calling for a broader set of actors to work together. No one agency has a monopoly on what makes cities child-friendly. We need to break down the professional and organisational silos that so often lead to isolated schemes, missed opportunities and wasted effort.

This in turn needs a level of cooperation ­– both between the leading agencies, and with the many smaller campaigning and advocacy groups – which recognises that the child friendly city concept has been taken up in different ways around the world by a wide variety of groups and individuals.

‘Municipalities … are the key agents of change, supported by national governments that create an enabling policy framework, and by strong partnerships with NGOs, civil society and the private sector’.

That said, it is municipalities that typically hold the functions that most strongly shape cities: planning, housing, green spaces, transport and schooling. They are the key agents of change, supported by national governments that create an enabling policy framework, and by strong partnerships with NGOs, civil society and the private sector.

We are impressed by the municipal innovation and leadership that is emerging from a handful of cities. Cities like Tirana, whose mayor Erion Veliaj sees children as both the lens and the catalyst for a new consensus vision for a fast-growing, polluted, car-dominated city that is trying to recover from its turbulent past. Cities like Ghent, which is integrating children’s perspectives into radical, sustainable planning, green space and transport policies.

We acknowledge the progress made by UNICEF’s official Child Friendly City Initiative, and welcome its increased profile, as signalled by the October 2019 summit in Cologne, Germany. We also recognise the excellent work done by NGOs and others who have taken up this topic. The Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Urban95 initiative (which two of us are part of) places the perspectives of infants, toddlers and their caregivers at the heart of global urban planning and design debates, and works on the ground in cities as diverse as Tel Aviv, Recife and Bogotá. At the community level, the UK campaigning group Playing Out has created a resident-led model of temporary road closures that is spreading around the world – and in doing so, is leading thousands of ordinary people to reimagine who and what streets are for.

Many more cities and agencies need to take up the cause of child-friendly urban planning: to build culture change and embed successful initiatives in policy, so that it is not left to a few isolated champions but instead becomes mainstreamed. This will require global learning networks that effectively nurture and share successful approaches and take them to scale.


No one actively wants to make cities worse for children. Rather, children – alongside other vulnerable city dwellers – are suffering the side-effects of short-termist, unsustainable, often uncontrolled, urban policies and programmes. With the equivalent of a new city of 1 million inhabitants being needed every week, it is time to call a stop on failed city-building that harms children and the planet.

Placing children at the heart of urban planning highlights both the key challenges facing cities, and the most promising solutions. It invites us all to look beyond our narrow, immediate concerns and instead to focus on the collective good, and on the longer term. The fact that cities are such complex organisms, and that urban planning is such a wicked issue, only amplifies the need for clear, unifying responses.

Seeing cities through children’s eyes is the best way – and perhaps the only way – to forge a compelling, consensus vision, and to build policies and programmes that match up to the enormity and complexity of the task facing city leaders.

Tim Gill, Adrian Voce, Darell Hammond, and Mariana Brussoni

Image: Playing Out CIC

About the authors

Tim Gill is an independent researcher and writer, and the author of No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society (2007). His 2017 Churchill Fellowship looked at child-centred urban planning in cities in Europe and Canada.

Adrian Voce is the director of Playful Planet and current president of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities. He is the author of Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right (2015).

Darell Hammond is an advisor for the Bernard Van Leer Foundation Urban95 strategy, amongst other advisory roles with Foundations and philanthropists. He was also the founder of US based NGO KaBOOM! which works to ensure that all kids get the play they need to reach their full potential.

Mariana Brussoni is a developmental psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Her research focuses on child development, injury prevention and outdoor play.



UK planning policy mainly fails children, but London, Wales and Scotland begin to show the way

18 Sep

This summer’s publication of the Mayor of London’s proposed revisions to the London Plan was welcomed by advocates who have been pushing for a stronger policy on children and young people’s play, recreation, and independent mobility. Wider reaction to this part of the Plan, including from the UK government, signaled the ongoing influence of the capital; but will national policy follow suit?

The London Plan’s already relatively progressive approach to children and young people’s play and recreation is now to be further improved: to recognise their need for a wider range of spaces and opportunities; to ensure play areas offer real play value, with elements of risk and challenge designed in rather than out; and to afford greater independent mobility for children and young people, to break out of the sedentary, screen-based lifestyles that have become commonplace in the digital era.


The revised plan will retain innovative supplementary planning guidance first introduced in 2005-6, with its qualitative standards, and minimum spatial requirement of 10 sqm per child for play areas in new developments. Also retained is the recommendation that London boroughs should work across departments to coordinate area-wide play strategies: the approach that was adopted in England, by the UK government, for the world’s first national play strategy (2008).

Most eye-catching of all, however, certainly as far as media observers are concerned, the draft London Plan now specifies that play areas ‘should not be segregated by tenure’. This is a clear response to the worrying incidence of children from social housing being excluded from communal play areas in mixed developments.

Announcing the change, London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, told the Guardian, “It is disgraceful that children who live in the same development would ever be prevented from playing together … The policies in my draft new London Plan are absolutely clear that new developments should be inclusive to all”.

Examination in public

Those of us who gave evidence at the London Plan’s Examination in Public may feel some gratification that our efforts on this occasion have received a positive response, but the real credit for this bold stance by the Mayor should more deservingly go to Louise Whitely, the parent of young children at the Old Baylis School development in south London, who  campaigned alongside her friends and neighbours for two years, to force the estate managers to honour the developers’ description of a ‘child-friendly’ estate; and Harriet Grant, the freelance journalist who brought the story to national attention via the Guardian, when a wall was erected to keep children from the social housing units out of the communal play space.

This was a narrative that captured public attention, highlighting a clear injustice in relatable, human-interest, terms, compelling policymakers to act; and not just in London. James Brokenshire, the (soon to be ex-) Communities Secretary, added the Government’s support for “planning and national rules that are there are properly upheld … (to end) segregation because of the nature of the home you live in”. It will now be up to his successor, Robert Jenrick, to deliver on that pledge.

Advocating for children’s rights in the built environment is challenging in the UK, where the absence of full adoption into UK (or Scots) law of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) means there is no statutory basis for rights-respecting policy. This is despite it being ratified by the government in 1991.

New research

But what does a more in-depth analysis tell us about UK planning policy and children’s rights? New research by Jenny Wood, of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and the Mayor’s design champion, architect Dinah Bornat, is assessing exactly that. While the full report is not due until the Autumn, the early findings seem to confirm the sense that children are most notable in national planning policy across the UK by their absence.

When mentioning them at all, planning documents most often refer to children either in the context of a list of protected minorities (usually in advice notes or documents with a lower standing in the hierarchy of planning than main policy documents), or as a kind of appendage to the default adult population, as in ‘people with children’, as though children do not have their own agency or distinct needs.

The research indicates that in recent years, of the four UK nations, Wales has had the most child-friendly planning policy. Whilst the assertions in the above paragraph still hold true for Wales, the latest Planning Policy Wales (PPW) was released in December 2018, and now aligns with the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, 2015, to embrace the concept that people-centred placemaking is a route to wellbeing. Children’s rights also form the basis of child-focused legislation in Wales, including a duty on local authorities to assess and develop plans for a sufficiency of play opportunities for all children. With appropriate ‘linking-up’ of all these policy areas and faithful implementation, Wales has the greatest potential for child-friendly planning at present.

Play sufficiency

Current Scottish policy has been less child-friendly than in Wales and takes a predominantly economic focus. However, the recently completed stage 3 of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, includes measures that will give the most protection to children as a specific group of any national planning system. This should be through a statutory right to participate in the process of developing local development plans, and through planning authorities being required to produce ‘Play Sufficiency Assessments’ (emulating Wales). Child-specific legislation in Scotland is similar to that in Wales but currently weaker. However, the Scottish Government is currently consulting on how to integrate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law.

Seeking recognition for children’s rights within English planning policy has seemed particularly difficult since the abandonment of extensive government guidance in 2010-11, which had begun to prioritise children and young people’s need for more space as part of its long-term strategy to reverse the trend towards ‘battery-reared children’. Many practitioners believe the development imperative of the slimline National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) overrides design issues, to the detriment of the young, especially in the lower socio-economic groups. The research confirms that the NPPF is very weak on children as a specific group. Child-friendly aspirant local authorities have no national guidance for the task. Nevertheless, a number of English councils have embraced the concept, some with the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative, some independently.

In Northern Ireland, there is presently little protection for children at the national planning policy level, but the Department for Environment in the process of looking at child friendly planning, and the Belfast Healthy Cities initiative has the longest standing child-friendly city approach of any UK city.

Cautious optimism

The UK clearly has a long way to go to integrate the UN’s Habitat declarations that children’s rights are a responsibility of both national and local government, and that the built environment has an important role to play. However, the London Plan revisions, the recent breakthrough in Scotland, the long experience of Belfast, and the progressive, rights-based approach to children’s play in Wales, each give grounds for cautious optimism.

A survey of 3,000 homeowners by the UK Green Building Council found that a neighbourhood where children can play outside was a bigger selling point than having a south-facing garden, or even the prospect of property value appreciation per se. Making  planning policy work for children and young people – shaping a built environment where they can gather and play equally, move around independently and enjoy the right to roam that older generations took for granted – is not only an obligation under of the UNCRC; it makes sound economic sense too.

Adrian Voce and Jenny Wood

Adrian Voce is president of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities, and the author of Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right (Policy Press, 2015)

Jenny Wood is Co-founder and Chair of the Board at A Place in Childhood and a Research Associate in the Institute for Social Policy, Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University.

Jenny Wood’s research with Dinah Bornat is funded by the Royal Town Planning Institute and will be published in the Autumn of 2019.

Adrian Voce, Jenny Wood, and Dinah Bornat will each be speaking at Towards the Child Friendly City: children’s rights in the built environment, a major conference in Bristol City Hall, on 27-29 November, 2019. Full details here


Bristol to host international child-friendly city conference in November 2019

7 May

Bristol City Hall, venue for the conference.

The European Network for Child Friendly Cities has announced a new international conference, to be hosted by the English city of Bristol in November 2019.

Towards the Child Friendly City: children’s rights in the built environment, a three-day conference, will be held at Bristol City Hall and other locations in the city on 27-29 November.

The event will bring together academics, policymakers and practitioners from the range of sectors that shape public space and infrastructure, with advocates and activists working to promote children’s rights in their neighbourhoods, towns and cities.

The European Network, which curated the biennial Child in the City conferences until 2017, is working with Bristol City Council and a range of other partners to create an event that brings together the best of the international child-friendly city movement, hosted by a city committed to its aims. Specific themes for the conference will be announced soon, together with keynote speakers and a call for papers.

“Children and young people are taking centre stage in the urgent movement for more sustainable living; this conference is a chance for the built environment sectors – public and private – to show how they are responding”. 

Adrian Voce, current President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities said:

“Children and young people are taking centre stage in the urgent movement for more sustainable living; this conference is a chance for the built environment sectors – public and private – to show how they are responding. It will be the first in our new series of independent events, fully controlled by the advocacy network itself, and aimed at raising the rights of children and young people on the policy agenda for towns and cities everywhere.

“We are really excited to be staging the event in Bristol, the home of some extraordinary child-friendly initiatives and environments. Children and young people are taking centre stage in the urgent movement for more sustainable living; this conference is a chance for the built environment sectors – public and private – to show how they are responding”.

Bristol, home of the modern street play movement. Photo: Playing Out CIC

Chair of the network’s scientific committee, the Swedish academic Dr Maria Nordström said:

“The role of children and young people in the lives of their communities, and how the built environment responds to them, has never been more important. That response should be based on the most current research and good practice, which is what we aim to showcase. We look forward to announcing an engaging programme of speakers, workshops and field-trips over the coming weeks, and to welcoming our worldwide network of colleagues to the beautiful city of Bristol in November“.

Bookings will be open soon. Put the date in your diary and watch this space for further updates, or enter your contact details below.






The European Network for Child Friendly Cities is an independent advocacy network of practitioners, academics and activists working alongside policymakers and public officials to promote children’s rights in towns and cities.
To receive updates about this conference, and about other network activities, please
enter your contact
details here:

Adrian Voce succeeds Jan van Gils as child-friendly city network president

14 Dec

re-posted from childinthecity.eu

The English writer and campaigner Adrian Voce OBE has been elected to succeed Jan van Gils PhD, as President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities (ENCFC). Dr. Van Gils announced his retirement from the role that he has filled for more than 14 years at the conclusion of the 8th biennial event, held in Ghent, Belgium in November.

Jan van Gilsjanvangils-230x230 was the founder of the ENCFC and inaugurated the Child in the City conference in Bruges, Belgium in 2002. Under his leadership, the network and the conference have grown in popularity and influence. Produced every two years in a different European city by a partnership of the ENCFC and the Child in the City Foundation, the conference has become a fixture for children’s rights advocates, academics, practitioners and policy-makers working for more child friendly towns and cities around the world.

Warm tributes were paid by the conference in Ghent to the immensely popular Van Gils, who is a Doctor in Pedagogic Sciences, author of several books and was the director of the Research Centre for Childhood and Society in Belgium, as well as being also President of the International Council for Children’s Play. He was described by the Chair of the Child in the City Foundation, Johan Haarhuis, as ‘a great man to work with; incredibly generous with his time and inspiring with his vision’. His successor, Adrian Voce, speaking on behalf of the whole network, said that Dr Van Gils would be ‘a very tough act to follow’ who had ‘given more to the movement for children-friendly approaches to planning and managing our towns and cites than anyone will ever know’.

img_2061Adrian Voce, who has taken on the role of President for an initial two years, is a former playworker, trainer, special needs assistant and residential social worker who became the first director of London Play in 1998 and then the founding director of Play England in 2006. He is the author of Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right, which documents the story of the play strategy for England of 2008-11 and the influencing and campaigning work that led to it. He played a key role in securing London as the host city for the second Child in the City conference in London in 2004 and has been a member of the ENCFC steering group since 2012.

%d bloggers like this: