Australia to put children and young people at the heart of city design

29 November 2021 – Australian children will be given a voice in the design of cities under an innovative partnership launched today by UNICEF Australia and the Bupa Foundation.

The Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI), UNICEF’s global program which currently reaches 30 million children in more than 40 countries, is a guide to help local councils design cities and towns that cater to the needs of young people aged under 24.

Key features of a child-friendly city include:
• Involvement of young people in decision making and urban planning
• Access to high-quality play and green spaces
• Sustainable transport
• Actions to address climate change, air pollution and urban sprawl

“As the leaders of tomorrow, our youngest citizens have the right to shape decisions made today – especially when it comes to making cities more liveable,” said UNICEF Australia CEO Tony Stuart.

“The wellbeing of children is the ultimate indicator of a healthy urban environment. Research shows that young people who grow up in greener areas are often less depressed, less stressed, and healthier. Yet overwhelmingly cities continue to be designed exclusively for, and by, adults. This was highlighted during the COVID-19 lockdowns where many high-density urban areas had limited facilities and green spaces in which children could play and exercise close to home.

“Data from the pandemic shows that children’s health and wellbeing is under strain. And their contribution to the recent Glasgow Climate Change Conference demonstrates that they are passionate about future sustainability, climate change, mental health, wellbeing, and social equity.

“This new partnership with the Bupa Foundation will ensure that the distinct needs of children are heard and included in the design of cities. We will draw lessons from UNICEF’s global experience to customise the initiative for Australia and put young people at the centre of their communities.”

Launched in 1996, the CFCI is the world’s first partnership program to prioritise children’s rights in city planning. Countries including Canada, Denmark and Germany have implemented the initiative.

Bupa Asia Pacific CEO Hisham El-Ansary said the CFCI is an outstanding framework that helps local councils and communities to support the development of mentally healthy and resilient communities.

“Responding to issues and supporting programs that help to improve the physical and mental health of young Australians is a significant priority of the Bupa Foundation. The link between the mental and physical health of people and the health of our planet is undeniable, so nurturing healthy, sustainable outdoor spaces is vital if we want to have cities that enable children to thrive and live up to their full potential,” Mr El-Ansary said.

Award-winning urban designer and architect Michelle Cramer, recognised for her work on the Barangaroo waterfront and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games site, will tailor the CFCI to Australia. She will consult with local councils and young people, as well as a Youth Advisory Committee made up of nine Australians aged 18 to 24, to adapt the Framework.

“I’m excited to be working on this project which aims to give children a voice as valued citizens in the making of cities, traditionally an adult domain. Child-centred urban design provides enormous benefits for the whole community, making cities more inclusive and sustainable,” Ms Cramer said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the health and wellbeing of children, a UNICEF Australia survey of more than 4000 people aged seven to 20 found many are optimistic about the future and politically engaged. It also found that 51 per cent are concerned about climate change, 64 per cent say they are never or rarely consulted by government on issues that affect them, and 24 per cent believe they are discriminated against due to their geographical location.

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