“A city without fear”: Children dream of life in post-pandemic cities

Author: Marta Briones

The Covid-19 pandemic brought urban life to a halt and turned children’s lives upside-down overnight. Across the world, children no longer had lessons or physical contact with their friends, and could not play or exercise outdoor. Strict lockdowns and mobility restrictions have shown the importance of more and better public spaces in our cities.

Nearly two years on from the outbreak of the pandemic, it’s time to rebuild and rethink cities. Given that one third of the 4 billion people who live in urban areas are children, it is clear that a successful city transformation process must be carried out with children in mind. This is not only because children’s opinions and needs are important, but because they will inherit the cities we build today.

The Metropolis Through Children’s Eyes initiative was launched by Metropolis, World Association of the Major Metropolises, to convey children’s opinions, experiences and suggestions – expressed through drawings – to local and regional governments across their network. Over 1,200 children between 5 and 14 years old from more than 33 cities called for their needs to be considered when designing urban spaces. The results show how children imagine cities free of pollution and danger, where technology and nature help us to provide opportunities for everyone.

“In the near future, the pollution-free world, the sky is no longer cloudy, blue sky, green grass, trees are growing very big. We moved out of the cement box and lived with Mama Tree.” – Zeng Hanming, 6 years

 “The pandemic has taught us great lessons such as equal rights and has showed us that no one is above anyone else.” – Wilson Jahir Padilla Sánchez, 13 years

Another use for public space: socialising and play

Giving priority to cars limits children’s mobility and autonomy and restricts their opportunities for play, while reducing children’s safety and increasing road and traffic accidents.

 “I wish we had a city with less cars, more parkland and more people cycling, so grandparents and kids like me become less sick and can play more often.” – Ailin Razmjooee, 8 years

 “In the streets next to our schools there should be much more space for people and bicycles and not so much for cars… oh, and if they go past, they should go very slowly.” – Mateo Vallverdú, 11 years

For children who live in cities, schools and other social spaces can provide their first introduction to nature, social interaction, physical activity and play.

One good example of inclusive public space is turning the areas surrounding schools into safe, noise and pollution-free areas, as well as implementing measures to deter or prevent parking at school entrances, in order to protect children.

Safer and more inclusive cities

The gender gap manifests itself in a number of ways, including sexual harassment in public space, or a lack of gender perspective in mobility planning. Children imagine safe and inclusive cities where all people live, work and participate in urban life without fear of violence and intimidation.

“A walk without any fear or risk…” – Erika Lizbeth Lapo Jaramillo, 12 years

“I imagine a city of the future with tracks in the sky, bubble suits, no litter on the streets, no violence and safety for all.” – Paula Andrea Yánez Vaca, 7 years

This goal is part of a gendered approach to urban planning that incorporates the visions, needs and problems of the entire population equally. As Plan International reminds us, the needs of girls are all too often blurred with those of “all children” or “women and girls”. Applying a gender perspective to urban planning is important to combat the inequality that can cause violence.

“It is not ok that they use gender to define things that could be anyone’s.” – Leire Sánchez Perdiguer, 11 years

Promoting active and sustainable mobility

Children look to the urban mobility of the future, in which the use of the car is overshadowed or cancelled out by aeroplanes and drones. Urban mobility is likely to be more sustainable thanks to electric motors that facilitate a zero-carbon footprint, while covering greater distances and flying between urban centres.

There are planes and high-speed trains that take you to other cities in a second. There are spaceships and flying cars that can carry a lot of heavy stuff like the Hulk.” – Ciro Mancini, 7 years

The current transport model in large cities needs to incorporate children’s daily lives, needs and expectations, because this is the only way we can guarantee that all citizens are provided for.

“I imagine a cleaner city, with children playing in the park, fewer cars and more space for people.” – Amary Malena Enríquez Calero, 5 years

Increasing urban green spaces

Renaturalising the city has widespread benefits for mitigating the impact of the climate emergency on health. Studies of children have shown positive links between greener environments and improved attention span, emotional and behavioural development, and even positive structural changes in the brain. Tall buildings now compete with leafy trees. For children, the sea takes centre stage in their imaginary city of the future.

“My drawing shows a city with large buildings that complement nature, creating a balance in the environment.” – Eliana Trujillo, 14 years

It is essential to listen to and respond to children’s perspectives on climate change. Failure to do so would not only undermine their right to be heard and to participate, but also hinders the effectiveness, strength and power of policies and the response to climate change itself.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but if people don’t take care of nature, trees, water and living things, we will have to wear suits with oxygen masks, like astronauts, because we won’t be able to breathe.” – Javier Nicolás Ruano Torres, 9 years

In short, the social and health problems left in the wake of the pandemic will shape a future of city transformation in which children’s perspectives must be accepted across urban policymaking processes.

Just like any crisis, the pandemic can act as a lesson for how to be responsive and resilient in an environmental emergency. If we can interpret the responses from children and young people, we’ll be able to help locate the necessary tools to respond in a timely manner to this climate emergency—one that threatens our survival as a species.

“No one really knows what the future holds, but the reality is that we are now adapting to a new space and modality, so we must reinvent ourselves”. – Mateo Gabriel Tunala Escobar, 11 years


About the Author

Marta Briones is a journalist specialised in International Relations.


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