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Cities for children are communities for all

In these reflections on themes of the Child in the City international seminar on urban planning, held in Rotterdam in June, Lia Karsten says that urban planners and designers must respond to the needs of families with children, not just young singles. The results, she argues, will be diverse and vibrant cities that work for everyone.

‘Family-friendly’ urban development is a hot topic, nowhere more so than in the Netherlands. This is particularly true in Rotterdam. After decades of suburbanisation, we now see that the number of families with children choosing the city as a place to live is again on the increase. This creates new challenges to create child friendly neighbourhoods. But we also need city centres that are attractive, not only to young student types or ‘yuppies’, but also to a new generation of urban families: migrants, social risers and family ‘gentrifiers’.

To make this happen we have to change the traditional city, with its focus on adult culture and activities, into a more inclusive and more differentiated city of today. This is a big challenge, precisely because the market is already starting to take over again. Housing in the city is becoming more expensive and there are already signs of families that cannot afford to stay.

Children overlooked

It has become clear that child friendly cities and urban planning from a family perspective are important topics that need our full attention. There are very strong influences within planning practices that tend to simply overlook the specific needs of children and families, with the declaration that ‘we make cities for all’. In this approach, urban planning from a family perspective is labelled too complicated and too niche. ‘We cannot plan only for families’ is the refrain.

Of course, cities must grow on the principle of urban development for all; nobody is denying that. The important thing is, that without a special focus on children and families, cities will not become places for all. They will be only for young, vital, prosperous and childless adults. It is easy to build cities for residents who do not need special attention. The challenge is to make them inclusive, both in terms of class and in terms of age and households.

Cities without children growing up in them are not the diverse, vibrant places they should be, and cannot be sustained in their primary purpose: as communities of people.

(To be continued …)

Lia Karsten

Lia Karsten MSc, PhD is associate professor in urban geographies at the University of Amsterdam/AISSR

Photo: Children on the Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam by Erik de Haan

In the second part of this article, Professor Karsten will identify the five factors emerging from the Rotterdam seminar as essential for child and family friendly urban development.

Author: Lia Karsten

Lia Karsten (MSc/ Ph.D.) is President of the Child in the City Scientific Committee and an associate professor of Urban Geographies at the University of Amsterdam. She is an internationally recognized expert in the field of urban childhood, changing family life and the use of urban public space. She has published several books and many papers in high standard scientific journals. Lia is the author of the most cited paper in Children’s Geographies (Karsten, 2005). In 2013 she received an honorary doctorate from the Uppsala University, Sweden. She was a visiting professor in Hong Kong and New York.

1 comment op “Cities for children are communities for all”

Tori Derr|07.09.17|17:59

Thank you for this perspective, Lia. I very much agree. I wish the title were different because it brings about a cliche that feels trite – and that brings about resistance to urban planning really considering how to be inclusive. As you say, we need cities to consider more groups of people, including migrants, diverse social classes, ages and household types. Is there a way to term this that feels inclusive as well?

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