The habitat of children – pavements, streets, greenspaces – is constantly being diminished and degraded. Ask children their opinion and they want local streets to be made safer for play, walking and cycling, with their number one concern being traffic. And their concern dictates their behaviour, between 1973 and 2005 the percentage of children playing near homes on pavements and roads dropped from 75 percent to 15 percent.
60 percent of today’s children will be the obese population of 2050, with health problems that threaten their long-term future.
Today’s ‘Places to Go’ conference in London, chaired by designer Wayne Hemingway, will debate the need to improve the built environment and bring children away from their computers and television screens into a world where they can enjoy independence, play safely and easily get to where they want to go – the park, their friends’ houses, or the shops.
In a statement, Sustrans said:
"Good urban design is not just about providing equipment in designated play areas, and encouraging play means more than extending school playtimes. It is about creating safe informal places close to children’s homes and enabling young people to be more independent whether they chose to walk, cycle or take a bus. Areas called Home Zones see the streets re-designed, removing kerbs and signs to give priority to people. Traffic calming schemes have also proved effective, research into schemes across London showed reduced mean traffic speeds by 9mph leading to a fall in serious accidents involving children by 45-60 percent."
Wayne Hemingway, designer – and resident – of the Staithes South bank housing development in Gateshead, England’s largest HomeZone, said: "We moan about anti social behaviour from young people and violent youth crime regularly dominates the headlines. In a Unicef report on children’s wellbeing Britain’s youngsters come at, or near, the bottom of so many ‘happiness’ indices. Time magazine recently ran a front page showing a hoodie, the Union Jack and a headline ‘an epidemic of violence, crime and drunkeness has made Britain scared of its young. What’s causing the crisis?’. I believe some of the blame lies in our health and safety, nanny state culture, some lies in a built environment that ignores children’s needs."
Adrian Voce, director of Play England said: "The modern world is making many streets and neighbourhoods into no-go zones for children’s play, with active travel and even public transport widely inaccessible for many young people. We’re calling on Government, local authorities and adults collectively to ensure that the public realm offers children places to play near their homes and, as they get older, more opportunities for their independent mobility. If we want children to enjoy their childhoods, develop healthy lifestyles and to grow up respecting their communities and caring for their environment, we need to give them a bigger stake in both."
Today’s conference is organised by sustainable transport charity Sustrans, Play England, the National Children’s Bureau and Living Streets. Speakers at the conference include Kevin Brennan MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families and there will be presentations by children with their own video diaries showing the realities of their everyday journeys when walking, cycling or taking public transport.