Creating cities for playful, active and healthy children and their caregivers

At IPoP, we collaborated in refining and expanding the content of the Proximity of Care Design Guide, a handbook for planning the local environment tailored to young children and their caregivers. The purpose of the guide is to encourage decision-makers, spatial planners, architects, and urban designers to consider the needs of young children (toddlers) and their caregivers or families. The design principles were tested in collaboration with the Pazi!park association in the selected area of Spodnja Šiška in Ljubljana.

The Proximity of Care Design Guide was developed by the international group for sustainable urban development ARUP and the Bernard Van Leer Foundation (BvLF). In addition to IPoP, eight organizations from various parts of the world participated in its testing and refinement: Ciudad Emergente (Chile), Huasipichanga (Ecuador), Cidade Ativa and Estudio+1 (Brazil), arki_lab (Denmark), Espacio Ludico (Uruguay), and the municipal authorities of Waltham Forest (London) and Lima (Peru). The expert team from ARUP and BvLF mentored representatives of participating organizations in embedding the child and family-friendly principles into a selected practical case through a training program.

The guide is a practical and free online tool that can be used to assess, design and plan the less exposed, densely populated, potentially polluted, and less safe urban environments and build healthy, protective, stimulating and supportive spaces. It is structured around four main stages of the urban design project: Understand, Design, Implement and Influence. It takes into account the physical, emotional, social, linguistic, and cognitive development of children 0-5 years old. Although, when the guide principles are implemented, the entire community reaps the benefits. The handbook is intended for professionals and decision-makers to support the creation of inclusive and caring urban environments for young children, their caregivers, and pregnant women.

In partnership with the Pazi!park association, we decided to test the guide in a selected open space area in Spodnja Šiška in Ljubljana, which, due to recent developments, is one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in Ljubljana. The test included a focused analysis and dialogues with other teams. We acquainted ourselves with the guide’s framework, prepared a list of potential stakeholders, and analyzed relevant spatial and statistical data. We conducted a field visit, interviewed parents of young children and conducted a survey in collaboration with a local nursery.

Figure 1 and figure 2: Rendering of Planned Multi-story Residential Buildings (source: API arhitekti)

Lack of space and inadequate spatial design for toddlers and their caregivers

The analysis considered the needs of children up to 5 years of age and their caregivers, as well as pregnant women. It revealed that the public space in Spodnja Šiška is deficient in several aspects. The on-site observations supported the formulated principles that relate to the considered neighborhood area and identified challenges based on the four dimensions addressed in the guide: health, safety, stimulation, and support (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Dimensions of the Proximity of Care Design Guide Framework (click on it to expand)

From a health perspective, the goal is to provide families with young children a healthy and green environment. In the case of the selected area, we identified a challenge in poor air quality and noise in certain areas due to traffic, inadequate access to well-maintained green spaces, and a lack of local green areas.

Challenges to a safer and more inclusive network of accessible spaces and infrastructure that are child-friendly include increased traffic volume, insufficient local green spaces and pedestrian areas, which hinder caregivers from freely walking and playing in the neighborhood, as well as a lack of public seating (benches) and amenities for care (public restrooms, spaces for breastfeeding and changing).

Stimulation promotes healthy development and curiosity in children. In this regard, we recognized a lack of local publicly accessible spaces dedicated to play, and extracurricular stimulating activities for various age groups and abilities.

Support from the city is worth strengthening. There is a general lack of communication between the city and its residents. There is a shortage of local community spaces, and the main points of socialization are institutions – such as nurseries or schools. Local initiatives are either weak or nonexistent, and new residents and neighborhood densification present new social challenges.

Source: IPoP in Pazi!Park archive

Spodnja Šiška case study − key findings and planning considerations

The area we analyzed in Spodnja Šiška is physically divided by two major roads, surrounded by several poorly connected sections that are not easily accessible for the target demographic. In the selected area, large new residential buildings are under construction, but they are not yet equipped with appropriate accompanying amenities, such as open public spaces, public transportation, and educational institutions. The volume of motorized traffic is increasing, while the amount of green and open spaces is decreasing, resulting in a diminishing potential for small local parks. Tivoli City Park is nearby, but to reach it one has to cross a very busy multi-lane road. This makes it difficult for young children to access and therefore it is hard to meet their daily needs for green areas. Due to the new housing developments, the local community of Spodnja Šiška is rapidly changing, and new residents bring fresh perspectives. However, there is also a growing need for additional programs and communal spaces. Not only are there shortages of green areas, but there is also a lack of local cultural programs, as the community is currently primarily linked by the school and nursery.

Source: IPoP in Pazi!Park archive

What Did the Community Engagement Reveal?

In the planning process, we actively involved local residents, particularly parents and caregivers of young children. We asked them to share their experiences of walking or spending time in public open spaces with young children through an online survey. We also requested them to mark locations on an online map where:

  • They frequently stop with their child.
  • They can let their child play independently without holding hands.
  • Their child can interact with nature and how often they visit such places.
  • They do not feel comfortable with their child.

We received 92 survey responses and 198 marked locations. The majority of respondents were parents of children under 5 years old who have been living in the neighborhood for over 5 years. Respondents identified popular play areas in the vicinity of the Spodnja Šiška Elementary School, in the courtyards of residential buildings, and in Tivoli Park. They mentioned that they often stop with their children in areas with a lot of activity and elevated noise levels. For example, they pause by the train tracks to watch train traffic or observe construction work. They also observe small animals along garden fences and on windowsills of ground-floor apartments. Areas along the busiest roads, especially Celovška and Medvedova streets, were identified as uncomfortable due to a lack of safety. Respondents confirmed the objective observation that there are virtually no local contacts with nature in the core of the neighborhood, and for this purpose, one must cross the very busy and wide Celovška Street.

Proposed solutions

By including residents via an online survey and interviews conducted with caregivers of children attending the local kindergarten, we have identified programs and locations that would enhance the use of local public open spaces and provide users with new opportunities for engagement.

The selected programs at locations proposed by the target demographic include: observation points, the Ruska street tree-lined walkway, and the local park near Mojca Cinema.

We understand the proposed solutions as a starting point for participatory planning, ranging from simpler interventions (observation points) to more complex developments (park near Mojca Cinema).

Observation points
Observation points are designed as pocket-sized street spaces for children and caregivers to take a break. They feature ground graphics highlighting points of interest (e.g., a train, tree, construction site), while also providing a safe space to stop (e.g., bench, tree).

Traffic calming measures on Medvedova Street

By implementing traffic calming measures, Medvedova Street becomes safer and slightly less unpleasant for residents and pedestrians alike.

Tree-line on Ruska Street

The tree-line on Ruska Street enhances the green infrastructure and is strategically placed, taking into consideration utility and transportation infrastructure.

Park next to the Mojca Cinema

The park next to the Cinema Mojca is collectively designed as a public green space. The park’s amenities include seating areas and a small play area, safely separated from traffic, potentially incorporating a water feature. The planning and implementation of the arrangement are carried out in collaboration with the residents.

Visualisations: Paz!park archive

We are honored to have been invited to participate in the training program and to have had the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Proximity of Care Design Guide. With its expert content, the guide serves the efforts to create cities tailored to young children and their caregivers. Through this collaboration, we were able to put our joint efforts into practice, exchanging experiences and challenges with other participating partners. We recognize the survey as an extremely effective tool for evaluating public spaces tailored to young children and their caregivers, which can also be applied to assess other urban areas in Slovenia.

The refined Proximity of Care Design Guide, developed by esteemed international organizations since 2021 and enriched with an innovative concept of testing and refining in various international urban environments, now supports professionals and decision-makers with organized expert content and knowledge. It helps creating inclusive public spaces and areas that are particularly child-friendly and welcoming to caregivers and expectant mothers. Additionally, the guide offers practical planning tools and advice to the broader interested public for various tasks. It serves as a collection of case studies to guide and inspire child- and family-friendly solutions in cities worldwide.




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Cover photo: IPoP archive

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