Category Archives: child-friendly cities

Children and the City Questionnaire Results

Results of the Children and the City questionnaire distributed to candidates running in Halifax’s municipal election are now available . An overview of candidate responses and overall results are posted in today’s digital edition of The Chronicle Herald.

Responses from candidates are unedited. There are individual results for each of the 16 electoral districts, results that capture mayoral candidates’ responses, and finally all responses are available in a single document.

Documents are stored on Google Drive. If readers experience difficulties with viewing the documents, the download function offers an alternative. Another option is to access the All Candidates responses on Dropbox for viewing or download.

Questionnaire results offer Halifax residents another lens through which they can consider how to cast their votes on October 17. I’m grateful to the candidates who contributed their thoughts and perspectives on improving children’s well-being in Halifax. Without a critical mass of participants it would not have made sense to continue the project. Always an optimist, I see the 55 per cent participation rate as firmly in glass half-full territory.

 

When talking about the benefits of child-friendly cities it’s important to emphasize that child-friendly cities benefit everyone – Kathryn Morse, Candidate District 10

 

I invite readers to browse through the results, particularly for their own electoral district, and determine how well the responses align, or not, with their own views. It was very heartening to see a significant majority of municipal candidates agreeing that UNICEF’s child-friendly cities approach could benefit the well-being of children in Halifax. Of the 46 respondents, 76 per cent were in agreement. An additional 17 per cent indicated interest but required further study prior to making a decision.

Once the dust has settled and councillors have been elected, I hope there will be opportunities for interested Halifax residents to engage on theses issues and build on the good work that Council is leading to help improve the well-being of our children.

This HRM 4 Kids civic project functioned on a strictly non-partisan basis.

I am always interested in comments from readers particularly if you are aware of similar projects involving candidates in municipal elections.

A final word to Mike Savage, our incumbent Mayor.

Planning a city that is safe and healthy for children is really planning a city that is safe and healthy for all.

 

Participation Levels on All Candidates’ Child Well-Being Questionnaire

Halifax, Nova Scotia, home of PlayGroundology, is in the midst of a municipal election cycle. Voting at the polls is slated for October 17. This year, I’ve embarked on a grass-roots, non-partisan civic project. It’s quite simple, I reached out to candidates with a brief questionnaire related to children’s well-being. Their responses will shed some light on their priorities and interest in making Halifax a more child-friendly city.

Not having any real experience in asking candidates questions for the public record during the course of an election, I’m not sure what to make of the participation level. If any readers have experience administering surveys to candidates running for office at the municipal level, I’d be happy if you could share some insights.

A quick note on methodology:

  • Contact information for candidates was sourced from the Official Candidates – 2020 Municipal and CSAP Elections page on the Halifax website;
  • The original request with the questionnaire was sent to all candidates on September 28;
  • A follow-up request was sent on October 1;
  • A last call reminder was sent on October 5;
  • There are 83 candidates vying for 16 seats on Council, this excludes those seeking the Mayor’s office;
  • Our revised candidate number, excluding the mayoralty, comes in at 81. One candidate provided no contact information on the Official Candidates page noted above. Information for another candidate posted on the Official Candidates page was inaccurate. This is the number that will be used when determining global candidate engagement.
  • Mayoral candidates will be featured separately.

The preliminary results look at response rates for all candidates, subsets of all candidates and district specific information. Many thanks to the candidates who made the time to respond to the four questions related to child well-being.

Readers, what are your thoughts on a 54% response rate for the questionnaire? Out of the 81 reachable candidates for Council, 44 responded and here they are.


 


There are 11 incumbents on the ballot this time around. There were 6 of the 11 who did not respond to the questionnaire.

We would be better served by our incumbents – given the work they’ve done and the experience they’ve gained working for the city and their constituents – if they would give more consideration to participating in all questionnaires that seek to increase understanding of issues that have a broad impact.

Thanks to the incumbents who did participate – Shawn Cleary, David Hendsbee, Waye Mason, Paul Russel and Lindell Smith.

Overall, the non-incumbents had a stronger performance than the incumbents vis à vis responding to the questionnaire as Chart 3 below illustrates.

I would like to share two final charts as we wrap up this overview focusing on candidate participation and lack thereof. The two charts below provide a breakdown by district of the percentage of candidates who responded to the questionnaire. You will note that there is a great deal of variance.

In Districts 1 through 8, with one exception, participation rates are at 50% or above with District 8 coming in at 100% participation.

Districts 9 through 16 are on the opposite end of the spectrum. After the 100% participation rate in District 9, it’s all downhill with 50% or less participation rates in the remaining seven Districts.

It’s heartening to see that all candidates from Districts 8 and 9, three and five candidates respectively, responded to the questionnaire. It’s unfortunate no candidates from Districts 6 and 16, three and one candidate respectively, responded to the questionnaire. In the case of District 16, the incumbent is the only one offering and as a result he will be acclaimed.

All submitted candidate responses will be posted online over the coming week. I am in the process of working on an opinion piece for The Chronicle Herald that I anticipate will be published next week. It will touch on the roll-up of candidate responses to the four questions and a reflection on the municipal election.

Once again, thanks to the candidates who responded to the questionnaire, I look forward to sharing your thoughts and insights.

If candidates who have not yet participated are interested in submitting responses, I would be pleased to include them online and in the opinion piece roll-up.

Found this lovely graphic on the @hfxpublib Twitter feed. Let’s VOTE.

 

 

An immodest proposal for Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund

Along with many others, I’ve been a fan of Tim Gill’s work for years. His ‘immodest’ proposal to enlist the planet’s most overly cash-endowed mazillionnaire to contribute some of his wealth to support fundamental urban design changes for the benefit of children has got legs.

Jeff, creating a thirst for cities to become more child friendly is a step along the path toward the real prize – embracing the possibility that all aspects of our lives can be more child friendly as the broader society is informed, influenced and improved by the best that children have to offer. Many of us believe that the ROI of this kind of approach is incalculable, off the charts. Jeff, or Mr. Bezos if you prefer, don’t miss the opportunity to make a real difference ….

Rethinking Childhood

In case you missed it, the richest person on earth earlier this week announced the world’s biggest fighting fund for the climate crisis. He has not said much about how that $10 billion will be spent. So in a rare display of immodesty, I am going to offer a proposal.

Jeff Bezos Instagram post announcing Earth Fund

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Tipping the Scales Toward Child Friendly Cities

Editor’s note – Thanks to Ian Smith (no relation) for this guest post on Child Friendly Edmonton. Smith is passionate about including children in city life. As Coordinator of Edmonton’s Child Friendly Cities initiative, he is in a unique position to experience their meaningful contributions first hand. So much so that he is convinced that municipal planners, policy makers and citizens at large have much to gain from listening to young people’s perspectives and ideas. Ian would like to acknowledge and recognize that parts of this article including some phrasing, ideas and concepts are based on Mara Mintzer’s 2017 TEDx talk How Kids Can Help Design Cities and that the ideas have been adapted to reflect how they apply to Child Friendly Edmonton. 

Nearly 25 years ago, UNICEF and UN – Habitat launched the Child Friendly Cities Initiative. As of 2018, 30 million children in 38 countries were being reached by this growing global movement. Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, UK released Making London Child-Friendly: Designing Places and Streets for Children and Young People, a milestone for the movement as it welcomed a leading world city to its ranks.

Major philanthropic organizations like the Bernard Van Leer Foundation are also lending support to engaging children’s perspectives on city living through their multi-year Urban95 project and other strategies. Just last month, Urban95 hosted an online twitter forum on livable, child friendly cities.

Other helpful and reliable sources of information on making cities more child friendly are: Rethinking Childhood; Cities for Play; Child in the City; and, CityLab. And now for Edmonton….

Sixth Grade Science and the City of Tomorrow

Edmonton, Canada is one of North America’s youngest cities but to 150,000 of its children citizens, it can still feel out of scale, out of reach and out of touch. Since 2006, Child Friendly Edmonton has been cheerfully obsessed with educating Edmontonians about the opportunities of working with children to come up with city-design solutions. We believe that inviting children to be a part of the design process can lead to a happier and more inclusive city.

 

We believe that inviting children to be a part of the design process can lead to a happier and more inclusive city.

 

Common sense suggests we need to include all users and welcome children’s ideas as important sources of information and experience that contribute to the development of our cities? If we’re building a park to be largely used by kids, then shouldn’t kids have a say in the park’s design? Shouldn’t this premise hold for a mental health campaign, or policy on child care, or safety on transit or public washrooms? The list goes on. These are questions child friendly advocates grapple with every day as they prioritize decisions and assess impacts on children.

In Edmonton, we try to think about people of all ages and circumstances before we put another shovel in the ground, or sign off on another strategy. But too often, outside those laughter-filled rooms in our homes and schools, the city feels dismissive of our smallest citizens.

Quintessentially Canadian Street Play

Imagine you are an architect or a contractor constructing a new building in your city. If you do not consider the needs of children, what could some of the implications be? What should a city in 2020 or 2050 look like to be safe, playful, connected and ultimately livable for an urban childhood? Who better to ask about this than children themselves?

Many people wonder how it’s possible for children to actually grasp these big city issues and complex problems such as the affordable housing crisis, the development of a transportation master plan, the role of mass public transportation or, prioritizing density housing solutions? And even if they had ideas, wouldn’t they be childish, or unfeasible to implement? Questions such as these require consideration because excluding children’s participation in civic issues can result in bigger design problems. It’s not just about designing parks, it’s about the values we embrace in our collective city building efforts.

Child friendly advocates like Mara Mintzer and myself aren’t suggesting that all ideas from children should be implemented. It’s about the principle of including children. Some ideas from children – a fully electric transit bus fleet, no fees for recreation and leisure centres, no bullying or adventure playgrounds in every neighborhood – may not be immediately feasible, but they shouldn’t be dismissed. We need to seriously consider and use these ideas as visioning and concepts for the type of city we want to create.

Downtown Fun – Keeping Warm and Toasty

On various occasions I’m reminded of the concepts that Mara Mintzer brings up and reflect on them in our context. Kids think differently than adults, and that’s a huge value we don’t appreciate enough. Adults think about constraints: how much time a project will take, how much money it will cost and what potential risks it presents. In other words, how can we avoid risk and build for safety? This is obviously important, we need experts providing technical feasibility and advice. Kids are experts in their own lives. When kids dream up a space they very often include fun, playfulness and activities in their designs. This is not always what adults prioritize for public spaces. However, research shows that fun, play and movement are exactly what we need – adults and children together – to stay healthy.

 

Overall, children have an inclusive mindset

in their city planning.

 

Overall, children have an inclusive mindset in their city planning. Without even being aware of it, it just happens. They design for everyone, from their elderly friend with a walker, to their multicultural friend who is struggling to learn English, to the marginalized individual they see resting at the transit stop. Children design for people not for cars, politicians, advocacy groups, egos, or corporations. The last and perhaps most compelling discovery I have made is that a city which is friendly to children is a city friendly to all.

That line of thinking reveals something important that has for too long been a blind spot. If we aren’t including children in our planning, who else are we excluding from the process? We can’t possibly know the needs and wants of other people without asking. That goes for kids as well.

So, adults, let’s stop thinking of our children as future citizens, and instead start valuing them for the citizens and leaders they are right now. Go and read the Sixth Grade Science and the City of Tomorrow the result of a consultation on Edmonton’s draft City Plan that included feedback from over 1600 children. Our children are designing more sustainable cities that will make us happier and healthier. Children are designing the cities we all want to live in.

Meeting of the Minds on the Steps of City Hall

Our goal is to enable Edmonton’s children to feel like they have a role in the city and do not have to wait until they’re 18, voting age, for their opinions to be heard and considered. We want to help create the environment and circumstances where they’ll feel connected, invested and engaged in a community that feels joyful and optimistic – a place designed for them that incorporates their needs and perspectives.

We would like to thank all those who are long standing champions as well as new and future child friendly city advocates who embrace this approach. To learn more about what municipalities and other regions across the world are doing, visit UNICEF Child Friendly Cities. A thank you and recognition go out to Mara Mintzer and the team at Growing Up Boulder. You can learn more about the Growing Up Boulder (GUB) experience here.

Play is an important component of every child friendly city.

“For kids, play is not an outcome based pursuit. It is spontaneous and without any specific purpose beyond play itself. As adults we all have a responsibility to help children experience the joy of play. Let’s embrace risk and resilience and support the renaissance of play.” – Open Letter to Mayors and Councillors – PlayGroundology

Click through for additional information on Child Friendly Edmonton.

What strategies are being developed and implemented in your town or city to make it more child friendly?

Announcing a new project to build the case for more child-friendly cities

This is great news for children and for adults in search of more evidence-based research that can inform policy and decision-making by influencers. Thrilled that inclusion of Vancouver and Calgary make Canada part of the mix. Tim Gill’s new project will look to measure impacts and outcomes linked to child-friendly urban planning. Love to be on the tour led by eight-year-old kids.

Nearly two years ago, Halifax was happy to host Tim as he wound up his Canadian tour. We had a great public event pulling in about 200 people on the Victoria Day holiday weekend to hear Tim’s perspective on the relationship between risk and play. His workshop with practitioners helped inspire the introduction of new forms of play in public spaces which continue to take root. I look forward to reading the results of this research.

Rethinking Childhood

What does it mean for a city to take child-friendliness seriously? What makes decision makers put real momentum and energy behind the vision of making the urban environment work better for children and young people? What does it take to move beyond fine words, small pilot projects and one-off participation events?

I am very pleased and honoured to announce that, thanks to a travelling fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I will be visiting a half-a-dozen cities in Northern Europe and Canada to get under the skin of this topic. One key goal is to explore the relevance of child-friendly urban planning to urban policy in the UK.

The fellowship will take in four cities – Freiburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Vancouver – that have led the way in putting into practice the maxim of Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, that the child is an indicator species for cities. With these cities…

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