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Child in the City World Conference 2022 underway in Dublin

Lia Karsten

‘We are united together again’ – the welcoming words of Lia Karsten, from the Child in the City Foundation, as she opened our 2022 World Conference.

Finally we were able to welcome experts and delegates from all over the world for our bi-annual conference, to share ideas for improving children’s lives.

Keynote presentations and a host of smaller ‘break out’ sessions formed the content for day one, with stories of best practice which are making a real difference for children living in cities and urban settings.

“Sharing ideas between professionals, between disciplines, between cities, and between children and adults, makes us all stronger,” said Lia, as she outlined the goals of the conference, entitled Making Connections.

The conference has five key themes: 1) Connecting the past with the present; 2) Connecting green and play; 3) Connecting play and health; 4) Connecting urban planning with participation and 5) Reconnecting children with society post-COVID.

Welcoming delegates to Dublin was Roderic O’Gorman (below), Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth, who focused on the importance of play. He said: “Play is a medium through which children interact, explore and make sense of the world around them. Play is at the heart of everything…play is the primary focus of our early childhood care settings.”

He also highlighted the importance of taking on board the views of young people, saying: “Increasingly we are seeing young people having an impact on the design of urban spaces. Listening to young people leads to better outcomes. ”

The minister was followed by Dr Niall Muldoon (below), Ireland’s Ombudsman for Children, who took the opportunity to raise the issue of homelessness amongst the young. “We need to be honest about our starting point – the child’s place in the city.”

“At a time of record homelessness, I believe I need to highlight the realities,” he said, and went on to point out that the ‘only real progress’ in reducing child and family homelessness in the past five years had been COVID-enforced, as evictions were banned.”

Also on stage before the main proceedings began were representatives of the Irish Youth Parliament – Comhairle na nÓg – representing a coalition of child and youth councils across Ireland. Hannah Cummins (below), one of the members, told the audience: “Our values are about listening to and respecting young people, and giving them a voice.”

Hannah Cummins Weiss

The day’s first keynote speaker was Dr Carol Barron, Assistant Professor at Dublin City University, who focused on the historical aspects of play in the city, and how practices and perceptions have changed.

Societies, she said, have always been ‘very vocal’ about their ‘particular cohort of children, while simultaneously believing that their generation was better’. She then made the point about how surroundings can influence how children act, saying: “The ordinary, the mundane, you will see them in every city in Europe…changes in the built environment directly impact on the play forms of children.”

Carol Barron

The day’s second keynote was Professor Helen Woolley, a landscape architect from the University of Sheffield, whose presentation ‘Green is good; Why? Where? How?’ was equally well received. She posed a series of questions about the relationship between green surroundings and children’s lives, saying it had a number of health benefits, including better coordination, improved motor functions and cognitive functions. “Greenness is a buffer to life stress – these are really great contributions to children’s (lives),” she said.

She also highlighted studies in the UK, USA and New Zealand which focused on the benefits to children of spending more time outdoors, something which came into sharp focus during the various worldwide COVID lockdowns, when many official playgrounds were closed.

In New Zealand, for example, an ‘almost car-less society was an unprecedented and possibly never-to-be repeated experience.” Her closing message to the audience was to get them to think about where they live and what they can do: “What types of green space are being designed in your city? Is there design guidance? Who is designing it? Can you influence it? And who is paying.”

Helen Woolley

“What is your role to make your city greener for the children and young people? I understand it is very different in all the countries represented here today,” she added.

Day two sees Helen Lynch, Senior Lecturer from University College Cork, with her presentation, ‘Connecting children’s participation in urban planning and play’, followed by Rosanna Di Gioia from the European Commission: ‘Examining artificial intelligence technologies through the lens of children’s rights’.

You can follow events via our Twitter account @Childinthecity1 and under the hashtag #childinthecitydublin2022

Author: Simon Weedy

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