Making cities child-responsive


​​​​​​​Shaping urbanization for children: A handbook on child-responsive urban planning, Published by UNICEF, 2018, Pages: 192, ISBN: 978-92-806-4960-4

In an era of rapid urbanization, over half the world’s people – including more than a billion children – now live in urban areas. Urban areas – cities and towns – of course, offer great potential to secure people’s life. Children (the most vulnerable groups of any community) in urban areas are often better off than their rural counterparts in relation to higher standards of health, sanitation, protection, education, recreation and so on. But urban advances have been uneven, and millions of children across the world, in marginalized urban settings, have to confront daily challenges and deprivations of their rights. Analysis of the main urban contexts demonstrates that urbanization does not necessarily ensure sustainable urban environments for all children. An estimated 300 million of the global population of slum dwellers are children, who suffer from multiple deprivations, live without a voice and have no access to land, housing and basic services. For children, it means unhealthy and unsafe environments, limited options for walking and playing, limited connectivity to social networks, services and local economy. Hence, given the global trend in urbanization, there is significant potential to engage with children in the decision-making processes that affect their physical urban environment, their interaction with urban resource systems and shape their behaviour.

The UNICEF publication “Shaping urbanization for children: a handbook on child-responsive urban planning” presents concepts, evidence and technical strategies to bring children to the foreground of urban planning. It calls all urban stakeholders (i.e. urban planners, city governments, private sectors, civil society organizations, and so on) to invest in child-responsive urban planning, recognizing that cities are not only drivers of prosperity, but also of inequity. By focusing on children, this publication provides guidance on the central role that urban planning should play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from a global perspective to a local context, by creating thriving and equitable cities where children could live in healthy, safe, inclusive, green and prosperous communities.

The handbook is divided into two main parts. The first part, which contains three chapters, makes the case for child-responsive urban planning and argues that every stakeholder has a crucial role to play. Chapter -1 ‘Why plan cities for children?’ provides a general overview of the challenges and opportunities of urbanization, children’s vulnerabilities related to the built environment and how urban planning can support urban programs for children. The next chapter ‘What can be planned for children?’ defines the core set of Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles based on a benefits framework and a typology of built environment components. Chapter-3 entitled ‘How can cities be better planned for children?’ reviews urban planning tools and illustrates how cities can be planned to be child-responsive, building on three potential strengths of urban planning: 1) to provide space for children, 2) to include children in the process of change, and 3) to develop urban policy that is based on child-specific evidence. Part 1 ends with a checklist of Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles that allows each stakeholder involved in child-responsive urban planning to quickly monitor and evaluate what can be done to take up responsibilities and improve the situation of children, respecting capacities and resources.

Part 2 of the publication provides technical support for urban planning stakeholders – urban planning professionals, civil servants in charge of city development plans and projects that impact the urban environment, and project managers in real estate development and community development managers – in their daily practices. They will get immense benefits from this detailed guidance on how to plan, build and manage child-responsive cities, from the building to the city scale, from stakeholder engagement to implementation on the ground, and from assessment to monitoring and evaluation. In order to make cities child-responsive, this section draws our attention to the following 10 Children’s Rights and Urban Planning Principles: I. Respecting children’s rights and investing in child-responsive urban planning that ensures a safe and clean environment for children and involves children’s participation in area-based interventions, stakeholder engagement and evidence-based decision-making, securing children’s health, safety, citizenship, environmental sustainability and prosperity, from early childhood to adolescent life; II. Providing affordable and adequate housing and securing land tenure for children and the community, where they feel safe and secure, to live, to sleep, to play and to learn; III. Providing infrastructure for health, educational and social services for children and the community, which they have access to, to thrive and to develop life skills; IV. Providing safe and inclusive public and green spaces for children and the community, where they can meet and engage in outdoor activities; V. Developing active transportation and public transit systems and ensuring independent mobility for children and the community, so they have equal and safe access to all services and opportunities in their city; VI. Developing safely managed water and sanitation services and ensuring an ‘Integrated Urban Water Management’ system for children and the community, so they have adequate and equitable access to safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene; VII. Developing a food system with farms, markets and vendors, so children and the community have permanent access to healthy, affordable and sustainably– produced food and nutrition; VIII. Developing a zero waste system and ensuring sustainable resource management, so children and the community can thrive in a safe and clean environment; IX. Integrating clean energy networks and ensuring reliable access to power, so children and the community have access to all urban services day and night; and X. Integrating data and ICT networks and ensuring digital connectivity for children and the community, to universally accessible, affordable, safe and reliable information and communication.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail:

  • Making cities child-responsive
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 11
  • S. M. Rayhanul Islam
  • DhakaCourier

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