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Planning Friendlier Cities for Children

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author Madhu Rose, Urban Designer

I recently attended an event hosted by the Sharjah Urban Planning Council (SUPC) titled “Child-responsive Urban Planning” in collaboration the Sharjah Child-Friendly City (Sharjah CFC) project, and United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The purpose of the workshop was to discuss ideas on how to make urban planning of the emirate’s districts, neighbourhoods and parks more inclusive of children’s needs while still catering to the overall community.

Various topics were discussed at the event, including ones presented in the UNICEF handbook “Shaping Urbanization for Children” written by Jens Aerts, an Urban Planning Specialist at UNICEF HQ. In this handbook Jens outlines 10 child rights and urban planning principles, and presents evidence-based concepts, tools and promising practices to create thriving and equitable cities where children live in healthy, safe, inclusive, green and prosperous communities. The day’s discussions also looked at ways to effectively assist relevant stakeholders working in planning, designing, transforming, and managing the urban environment in a manner that ensures that Sharjah becomes a child-friendly and responsive city.   

I found the event and discussions both helpful and inspiring from a professional standpoint of course, as it forced me to reflect on what I can do as a designer that might improve the lives of children. It also made me proud to be a resident of the ever-progressive UAE, as Sharjah is the Middle East’s first candidate for the “Child Friendly City” initiative. But the part of me that resonated most with the matter is my role as a mother. My child is two years old and is beginning to interact more with his direct environment. He loves being outdoors, exploring and getting into mischief, and I often reexperience the world through his curious little eyes. I know that I want him to have as many opportunities as possible to thrive and flourish wherever he lives, but I also know that every parent wants the same for their child, because the more we invest in providing healthy  environments for our children to grow up in, the greater the next generation’s appreciation for the world will be.