Net zero transition offers a chance for truly child-friendly communities, says ‘thinktank’ report

Bold, ‘citizen-led’ ideas for how society can work together to reclaim spaces for children in net zero UK communities are set out in a new report.

IPPR North is a dedicated ‘think thank’ for Northern England, setting out visions for empowering English local areas and communities, and its new paper outlines ideas for how to deliver a ‘child-friendly city region’.

It builds on the things that make people proud to live in this areas, to create greener, safer and more community-focused spaces.

Residents of the city of Liverpool, as well as Anglesey in neighbouring North Wales, provided vital material for the report’s authors, helping them understand the challenges that different types of places face. Liverpool was selected to represent a typical northern metropolitan area, and reflect the ‘scale of change’ required to the UK’s urban areas.

The Isle of Anglesey was chosen for its representation of a dispersed rural area at risk from climate breakdown, but one which can also benefit from the transition to ‘net zero’.

‘Child friendly city regions’

The report, Net Zero Places: A Community-Powered Response To The Climate Crisis, sets out a series of ‘policy principles’ for designing net zero places, and these are based on the feedback received from a series of workshops made up of citizens of the two areas focused on.

One key theme that was identified by contributors and developed further by the report’s authors was ‘reclaiming spaces for children’, which is all about enabling children to feel safe, happy, welcome and able to play and interact with nature – wherever they are.

“Too often climate policy is designed without adequate consideration of what is at stake for children,” says the report. “For example, too many places – whether they are villages, towns, or cities – are not as safe and as welcoming for children as they could be.

“The net zero transition offers a chance to change this. By reclaiming spaces from cars and creating more green space, we can create safe streets for our children to walk or cycle to school, play, and learn about nature.”

‘Long terms improvements for everyone’

‘Following the Welsh Government’s lead’, it adds, ‘the impact on future generations should be core to policymakers at all levels – all public investment and policy decisions must be compatible with supporting a thriving natural world, tackling the climate crisis and delivering long-term improvements in quality of life for everyone’.

Acknowledging the importance of continuing the opportunities for young people as they grow into adulthood, adds: “As well as making our public spaces more child friendly, we also need to connect young people to local opportunities in the green economy. Combined and local authorities should be given greater powers over skills provision to ensure this aligns with future opportunities.”

Comments from the Liverpool workshop included:

“The climate change issue – there should be more focus on the next generation. Liverpool policymakers at the moment, they are not family-focussed”

“We need to think of ideas that immediately change the quality of life for kids, but also changing things now will help the kids’ futures”

“I would find a way to stop all cars from coming into the city centre – a car-free city a bit like Amsterdam”

The report highlights ‘significant concerns’ about the impact of congestion and poor air quality on children, with many people saying how much things had changed during their lifetime – and not for the better.

“As part of a wider shift to encourage greener journeys, they want to see immediate action to improve the environment around schools and make journeys to schools safe, ‘kid-friendly’, playful and with opportunities for connections with nature along the way,” adds the report.

A net zero, ‘child-friendly Liverpool’, it concludes, ‘should be a place that protects children’s futures and where they feel happy and safe’

‘Invest in children’s futures’

“The public realm, particularly roads, should be a pleasant space for people to walk and cycle, with clean air and more space for street trees or urban meadows. The walk to school should provide a chance to play and an opportunity to encourage a connection with nature. A commitment to invest in children’s future would mean youth centres and services are more accessible to all. All decisions made by local and regional government must be in line with addressing the climate crisis.”

IPPR North researchers Jonathan Webb, Amreen Qureshi, Stephen Frost and Becca Massey-Chase wrote the report, and they are critical of how local government has seen its role in tackling climate issues ‘diminished’, largely because of huge reductions in funding in recent years.

“This top-down policy approach risks exacerbating existing inequalities and locking in a sense that policy is done to people, not with people. In contrast, by working with communities, this research seeks to generate visions for what net zero places could look like. It aims to understand locally-led and community-inspired visions for a net zero future.”

Click here for more about IPPR North.

Author: Simon Weedy

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