If you could experience the city from 95 cm – the height of a healthy 3-year-old – what would you change?
This is the core question Urban95 seeks to answer on behalf of the babies, toddlers and caregivers who rarely have a voice in city policy, planning or design.
We do this by helping city planners, urban designers, and other urbanists understand how their work can influence child development. Our goal is to encourage cities to create spaces where children can grow, learn, create, imagine and play across all neighbourhoods, reaching as many families as possible.
What it means for cities
Cities for babies, toddlers and caregivers are good for everyone
The presence of children and families is often a measure of a city’s vibrancy and dynamism. And their experience of living and growing in cities is wholly unique. Cities can be wonderful places to grow up, but they can also pose serious challenges for the health and wellbeing of babies, toddlers and the people who care for them – from a lack of nature and safe spaces to play, to air pollution and traffic congestion, to social isolation.
Today, more than a billion children are growing up in cities. Urban families around the world, especially those living in poverty or in informal settlements, benefit in transformational ways from more – and more accessible – services, transport, and safe, clean green spaces for small children to play and families to gather.
A city that works for babies, toddlers and their caregivers is a city that works for everyone.
Better planning and design that incorporates the experience of babies, toddlers and their caregivers helps children thrive and become healthier and empowers caregivers; it also carries benefits for other members of a city’s population characterised by limited range and unhurried pace, such as disabled and elderly people. Such family-centred urban planning and design is not only about building more playgrounds. Families are disproportionately challenged by poor public transport, as well as food, healthcare and childcare ‘deserts’.
Children and their caregivers are more likely to thrive in cities when they have access to:
- Nature: Exposure to nature for play, exercise and rest is beneficial for mental and physical health at all ages.
- Clean air: The effects of poor air quality are felt disproportionately by the youngest, and especially those in low-income areas.
- Proximity to services and healthy spaces: Ensuring that healthy food sources, medical centres, meeting places, nature and affordable childcare are accessible by foot, bicycle or reliable public transport provides support to caregivers and gives all children a good start in life.
The Urban95 initiative supports our partners to work on diverse aspects of city design and urban life to improve health and wellbeing, and encourage healthy interactions between caregivers and young children, such as:
- Public space: Places such as streets, parks, sidewalks, plazas and playgrounds should be safe, accessible, comfortable, healthy and stimulating for babies, toddlers and their caregivers. Healthy environments with safe levels of air quality and low noise pollution
- Mobility: It is vital for caregivers and young children to have convenient, affordable and sustainable ways to reach their destinations and follow their daily routines.
- Neighbourhood planning: Neighbourhoods should be created to provide easy access to key services within a short, affordable journey, a vibrant, supportive community, and a comfortable environment for young children and caregivers.
Additionally, family-friendly urban planning and design can also increase a city’s climate resilience, carry enormous economic and other benefits, and offer a platform for investment that tends to unite political forces.
Babies, toddlers and the people who care for them experience the city differently
Babies, toddlers and caregivers experience the city in unique ways, which can impact their development and have lifelong effects.
- Babies absorb four times more air pollution than adults. Exposure starts during pregnancy.
- Toddlers need double the amount of time to cross streets compared to able-bodied adults.
- Young children experience reduced stress and better physical and mental development when they have regular access to nature.
- The smallest features, such as a step or a pattern of tiles on the sidewalk, invite play and exploration.
- Young children depend on their caregivers to move around the city. Making it easier and faster for families with strollers and on little legs to reach key destinations is one of the best things you can do to ease stress and make it more likely that those families will make use of services.
- Waiting (for buses, appointments and in queues) is a challenge. Design features that allow for exploration and play make waiting easier and create valuable opportunities for learning and social interaction.
Meet the Young Explorers
Experience the challenges and joys small children growing up in
the city encounter every day.
Policies & Services
Urban95 Ideas for action focus on helping cities increase positive interactions between caregivers, babies and toddlers; increase access to - and use of - the services and amenities families need; and reduce stresses on caregivers. The ideas are organised into two categories of policies and services:
These Ideas for Action do not cover all the aspects of urban life that are important to healthy child development, such as affordable, safe housing and access to water and sanitation (WASH) services. We have chosen to prioritise a set of issues where we believe the impacts on child development are important but not often directly addressed. We have developed a set of briefs on how other aspects of urban life influence child development.