Interview with Tim Gill on the child rights perspective in urban and community planning December 2022
This December, Rebecca at Barnrättskonsulterna had the great pleasure of talking to Tim Gill on topics related to urban and community planning through the child rights perspective- lens. Tim is a writer, consultant, independent researcher and public speaker as well as global advocate for children’s outdoor play and mobility, more child-friendly neighborhoods, and a balanced approach to risk in children’s play and learning. His work cuts across public policy, education, child care, planning, transport, urban design and playwork. Tim is based in London, England but has the whole world as a working ground.
Why is urban and community planning so important for the rights of children?
“I start from a universal position, as set out in the UN convention – for example all children have the right to play. There are these universal claims that children have on society and I think one of those claims that is particularly important for children is about their spatial lives – their opportunities to play, and to get around.” – Tim explains.
“whilst proceeding from a universalist stance, it’s very clear that children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods have poorer access and worse opportunities to play and to get around. They are also harder hit by some of the side effects of poor urban planning and design problems, such as dangerous traffic, pollution, run down spaces that aren’t properly cared for, and a shortage of outdoor space.” – says Tim.
“There is a strong case for making sure that all of the work, the ways that we shape neighborhoods should pay particular attention to marginalized and disadvantaged children and families.”
“We know from data that children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and who are also growing up in disadvantaged households are hit harder by those urban planning and design problems. So, there is a strong case for making sure that all of the work – the ways that we shape neighborhoods – should pay particular attention to marginalized and disadvantaged children and families”.
In your experience, is children still viewed as a homogenous group when considered in urban and community planning?
“There is a long way to go, but I think that it’s changing quite a lot. Here in the United Kingdom there is currently a lively debate about girls and the recognition of the difference in the spatial lives of girls and boys.
”Parks and public spaces fail to take into account the needs and wishes of girls”
The debate has matured into the understanding that this is not down to girls necessarily being different in their preferences, it’s to do with the way parks and public spaces fail to take into account the needs and wishes of girls”. – Says Tim.
“So, that’s one example of where people are thinking more about the different, and more detailed issues about certain groups of children. I think there is also a growing awareness of the challenges facing disabled children and families of disabled children and greater interest in, for instance, creating more inclusive play spaces that work well for children with a range of abilities and disabilities.” – Tim explains.
“There is a basic challenge of even making that universalist case because children as a group are not well served.”
“As I said in the beginning: There is a long way to go – because there is a basic challenge of even making that universalist case – because children as a group are not well served. Their needs and wishes are downplayed. But, the next step is for sure to think more about different groups of children and how parks, streets and public spaces can better reflect their needs an lived experiences.” – Tim elaborates.
How important is it for the child rights perspective to be included early on in the stages of urban planning?
“The earlier you can influence urban planning schemes and programmes, the better. Bringing a children’s lens to your schemes or municipal policies – The sooner that can happen the more chance it has of having an impact. But in many countries, the profile of children’s rights is still very low. So it can be a battle to put children’s rights on the agenda and to make it a focus. So that’s a main challenge.” – Tim says.
Sustainability and children’s rights as a part of the bigger picture of society
“We know that public bodies and municipalities face a lot of pressures at the moment. This is why, in my work, I always try to emphasize the connection between a children’s rights focus and other priorities that public bodies are already grappling with, like public health, climate and the environment, and social injustices.”- Tim explains.
“Childrens rights are connected to other areas of focus.” – Tim elaborates.
Tim exemplifies: “Healthier places are more child-friendly places – and they are more sustainable places, because in those instances we are talking about creating neighborhoods where more people can be more active, have more contact with nature, can get what they need and want within their neighborhood (they don’t have to travel by car).”
“So alongside trying to amplify the children’s rights focus, my work also tries to point out how strong the connections are with some of the other topics in society. And that, by having a children’s rights focus you can help to build consensus and support for policies that might otherwise prove quite challenging. For example, tackling traffic. It’s hard to get people out of cars, it’s hard to get support for strong measures to make it easier to walk and cycle in cities because they nearly always mean you’re going to have to make it more difficult for people to drive.”
“But bringing children into that conversation and into those debates, it can help people focus on the longer term and help people focus on a collective benefit rather than just getting stuck in their own narrow interests.”
Which are the main challenges to overcome in order for children’s rights to be realized within urban and community planning?
Tim states three main challenges:
Car-dominance. “Urban planning and design is still being too strongly focused on the needs and priorities of car drivers – this is the single biggest challenge. I’ve seen examples of developments and districts that have moved away from that, and that I believe is the single biggest step to creating better places for children and families.”
Strengthened argument for public space. “A big strategic challenge is having a strong set of values about public space and about why having lively, attractive public space (genuinely public in that people don’t have to pay for it, in the right location and is accessible) is important. The argument for public space needs to be strengthened because there are, for example, economic forces that get prioritized.”
Injustice and future societal problems. “Thinking about the children and families who are currently worse served by urban planning, that are living in areas that have had poor investment, that are run down, and where the population may struggle to get the attention of decision makers because they’ve got more pressing matters to deal with in these areas. In a simple sense it’s unfair, but it’s also storing up problems for the future.”
“In a simple sense it’s unfair, but it’s also storing up problems for the future.”
Do you have any last words for us?
“That (child friendly spaces) doesn’t happen by accident – it needs to be an intentional goal”
“One of the signs of a healthy neighborhood, is one where you see children active and visible, playing, getting around, spending time with their friends and family. That doesn’t happen by accident – it needs to be an intentional goal and is indeed an indicator of the quality of human habitats.” – Tim ends.
For more knowledge and advice on these topics, we highly recommend Tim Gills two books:
“No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society (“A handbook for the movement for freer, riskier play” – New York Times)
“Urban Playground: How child- friendly planning and design can save cities”
Thank you to Tim!