HEAL Faculty Associate Dr. Christina Ergler discovers toddlers are intuitive city planners, whose voices should be heard by all

According to the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child and the UNICEF child-friendly city initiative, children of any age or ability have the right to meaningful participate in the creation, transformation, and development of their urban environments. However, their voices, especially those of younger children, are largely disregarded in city design.

HEAL Faculty Associate, Dr. Christina Ergler was featured on Radio New Zealand to share her research exploring pre-schoolers’ participation in meaningful city design. Christina is a faculty member in the Department of Geography at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her work focuses on the relationships between well-being, place, and lived everyday experiences of children.

This youth-driven project was sparked by the lack of research that considers the experiences of children under five years old in city planning. As a result, her and her colleague investigated preschoolers’ experience in, understanding of, and visions for their city.

Kindergarteners, aged 2 to 5 years, from three pre-schools in Dunedin participated in a variety of exercises including mapping their ideal city, group discussions, and neighbourhood walks. By engaging children in these exercises, they were able to demonstrate what they thought a city needs to function, as well as be safe, healthy, and fun.

Drawing from their own experiences, children created child-friendly, safe cities that considered the needs of humans of all ages and non-humans. This was demonstrated by pre-schoolers expectations that cities had basic amenities such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, parks, coffee shops, and clothing stores. They also identified key services and facilities, such as beaches, parks, gathering places, green space, as key design elements that make cities fun for everyone. Children were also very aware of dangers and the notion that cities can be dangerous places. They regarded lampposts, pedestrian crossings, and traffic lights as essential safety infrastructure.

This research suggests that pre-schoolers have the competency to think holistically about city design. As a result, Dr. Christina Ergler stresses that participation in decision-making related to city planning should be made based on ability, not age. Thus, communities, planners, and urban policy makers need to ensure mechanism to support the participation and consultation of young children in the design of their local environments.

Check out her interview with Radio New Zealand here.

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