Is My City Child-Friendly?

If you a parent, your child’s safety is probably your number one concern. This concern influences the neighborhood you live in, the vehicle you drive, the types of food that you purchase, etc. However, when thinking of the long-term safety of your children, you probably want to live in a child-friendly city. That begs the question, what does a child-friendly city look like? In this piece, we will discuss this question and provide an explanation.

I live in Richmond, the capital of the state of Virginia and the former capital of the Confederacy. It’s a medium-size city, with the perfect blend of big-city amenities and small-town charm. I have been here for 5 years, and since I have a 2 ½-year-old son, whether my city is child-friendly is a big deal. Lately, I have been researching how well Richmond has been designed with kids in mind.

So what does designing a city with kids in mind mean? It’s not just about building more playgrounds. However, such spaces are essential and will continue to be. When we speak of building a city around children, we have to consider two main aspects of design: everyday freedoms and children’s infrastructure.

Everyday freedoms and children’s infrastructure

Everyday freedoms are defined as children’s ability to travel safely on a bike or on foot in their neighborhood, without an adult; to a park, to a recreational center, to school, etc. The “popsicle test,” is a scenario where a child can safely walk from their house to a nearby store, buy a popsicle, and return home before it melts, is my favorite way to measure this ability. Richmond fails this test because, with the omnipresence of crime in the city, most parents would not feel comfortable allowing their child to walk around without adult supervision. Before Richmond gets a passing grade in this area, it would need to decrease its crime rate, and make its streets safe to walk again (for kids).

Children’s infrastructure means the network of spaces, pathways, and streets that can make a city child-friendly and allow children to enjoy those everyday freedoms. To ensure such child-friendly designs, cities must employ strategies that focus on walkability and decreasing the dominance of the automobile.  Richmond has made strides in this area but has a long way to go before I can give them a passing grade.

To receive a passing mark, they need to add wider sidewalks and more protected cycle lanes and footbridges. I would love for them add “people-friendly” areas such as Barcelona’s “superblocks”—square regions of the city in which cars are only allowed on boundary roads, leaving large chunks of space free for pedestrians and cyclists. Also, they need to add more child-friendly parks, like the Bicentennial Children’s Park in Santiago, Chile, which encompasses the city and affords a continuous, green walkway and play space through neighborhoods rich and poor. Richmond should receive recognition for their “forested urban areas” where children and adults can play in nature.

Other considerations

Let’s talk about some other factors that must be taken into account when designing a child-friendly city. For example, many cities are trying innovative initiatives like Bottom of Formplanting community gardens or creating an infrastructure that proactively addresses climate change, such as stormwater parks that can be used in both flooded and dry conditions. We have several community gardens throughout Richmond, and I know of a few projects that address environmental concerns. Also, Richmond and its surrounding areas have done an excellent job of investing in children’s museums, many of which are top-notch. The city has also done an outstanding job of creating affordable housing and support services for children and their families.

Concluding thoughts

Developing a child-friendly city is not a difficult task. It just takes politicians and city employees who understand that children are our most precious resource, and we must do everything we can to keep them safe. We have to provide them with opportunities to play, grow, and learn in a city that was designed to do just that. Although Richmond has made some strides in their quest to be more child-friendly, it still has to make some improvements in the everyday freedoms and children’s infrastructure department.

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