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Expertise of town planners ‘essential’ to children’s recovery from effects of pandemic

Town planning has a vital role to play in helping children bounce back from the pandemic, says the UK’s leading organisation for town planning.

Guidance published by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) highlights how urban planners can work within current planning systems and with other professionals to successfully more child-friendly places.

In the wake of the pandemic, the guidance – Children and Town Planning: Creating places to grow – sets out how youngsters face numerous challenges directly related to the built environment. These include overcrowded and poor quality housing, pollution, lack of access to green spaces and play facilities, and the ever-present threat to the environment posed by climate change.

Interestingly, it also recognises how, since the first UK lockdown was announced in March 2020, young lives have been further impacted by COVID, yet relatively few have experienced significant health impacts as a result of the disease itself, though the impact of lockdowns, school closures and reduced social interaction has been huge.

‘Inspire and create spatial solutions for children’

It stresses the importance of meaningful consultation and engagement with children and young people in the planning process through the use of creative techniques such as Minecraft, Lego building, model making, and arts and crafts.

Better partnership working between planners and health & education professionals is also vital if planners are to fully understand how the experiences of children and young people can help inspire and create ‘spatial solutions’ that improve their experience.

Local councils should also look at the use of the Real Play Coalition’s Urban Play Framework. This tool for assessing the dimensions critical to ensure a play-friendly environment for optimal child development and learning was successfully tested in the London borough of Barnet.

Wei Yang, RTPI President, said: “Providing a high quality built and natural environment for children to grow up in can have a significant positive impact on their health, wellbeing and future life chances, particularly as we begin the slow emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘We must move towards a more ambitious approach’

“Major disruption to education, alongside the limited opportunities to see friends and wider families, to play and enjoy activities and the worry about the impact of Covid on their families, will have taken a heavy toll on some children – good town planning is essential if we are to help them recover.

“I am particularly pleased to see that one of the aims of this advice is to expand the scope of what is currently understood by most planning professionals as ‘planning for children’ – we must move beyond the provision of playgrounds and schools towards a more ambitious approach that encompasses all aspects of children’s lives.”

Prof Peter Kraftl, Chair in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham, said: “I was delighted to support and input into the creation of this important piece of guidance. Alongside burgeoning interest in how we can plan places that are more inclusive of children and their diverse needs, there is now considerable research evidence about the benefits of planning child-friendly places and how we might create them.

‘Ensure that children are included in planning processes’

“Challenges to children’s outdoor play and use of public spaces during Covid-19 have simply reinforced the need to plan more child-friendly places. This key document offers an overview of policy, design and planning practice, and mechanisms to ensure that children are included in planning processes that should be indispensable to a wide range of practitioners.”

Independent researcher, author and childhood consultant Tim Gill added: “Creating child-friendly neighbourhoods is about much more than playgrounds. In fact, a child-friendly place looks a lot like a healthy and sustainable place: compact, walkable and green. As this thought-provoking guidance from the RTPI shows, places that work well for children are good for everyone. I encourage all planners to reflect on its findings and act on its recommendations.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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