Today, 70% to 80% of all European children are urban dwellers, but a simple stroll through the city is enough to realise that the urban world is not always suitable for toddlers. How can cities become more kid-friendly and become urban playgrounds?
Le Corbusier to the rescue! Under his impulse, in 1933, the International Congress of Modern Architecture results in the Charter of Athens. A founding text that envisions the city as “functional” and provides distinct areas for housing, work, entertainment and transport. In this fundamental text, Le Corbusier thinks about security and the optimisation of space to supervise children. Six decades later, his ideas have not found the expected echo: three-quarters of European children are city dwellers, but the city is still not adapted to their needs.
Steps and sidewalks are high, benches and quiet spaces are rare. And in some neighbourhoods, playgrounds are few and often not very much fun. According to the urban philosopher Thierry Paquot, author of a collective work on The Recreational City (éditions Infolio), pedestrian children are forgotten in cities. “Children between 6 and 13 years old are pedestrians who experience the city differently from adults“, he explains. Conducting a study on the subject, Thierry Paquot had the idea to put a camera on top of the head of a little five-year-old girl and shoot the city at her height. The finding is without appeal. “The cities are now designed to be rational, functional. They are designed for cars. No decision-maker has the priority of making the city poetic or playful. However, that is what children expect“, says the professor emeritus at the Institute of Urbanism in Paris.
The Danish example
Is it possible to make the city more welcoming to children? According to Thierry Paquot, the ideal kid-friendly city would above all be a ‘sensitive’ city, where different generations meet and talk. It would also be a slow city, where traffic would be limited to 30 km/h. It would also have special, secure tracks for pedestrian children, with arrows or marks on the ground.
But it is in Denmark, where architects of the Cobe and North PK3 offices, as well as the company Grontmij, were the first to work on the design of a city that is entirely focused on children. The “Prinsessegade Kindergarten Youth Center”, which saw the light of day in 2016, has been built in the heart of Copenhagen, between two major avenues. Nearly 710 toddlers can move around at their leisure in small houses, parks, a stadium covered in solar panels, but also in a restaurant with a roof garden. Like Copenhagen, this “city for children” has its own town hall, library and museum. The objective of such a project, which far exceeds that of an amusement park like Legoland, is to “provide the necessary tools and equipment to children so that they can understand the city in their own way and completely independently“. By 2025, Copenhagen will have 90,000 more than its 510.000 current inhabitants and 22,000 people will be under 18 years of age.