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Work of town planners essential to children’s post-Covid recovery

Town planning has a vital role to play in helping children bounce back from the pandemic.

That’s the message of new guidance published today from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) on how planners can work within current planning systems across the UK and Ireland and with other professionals to plan for more child-friendly places.

Children and Town Planning: Creating places to grow shows how youngsters face numerous challenges directly related to the built environment, including poor quality and overcrowded housing, high levels of pollution, limited access to quality green space and opportunities for play, and the impacts of climate change. 

The new guidance also recognizes that, since March 2020, young lives have been further impacted by Covid-19 - whilst relatively few have experienced significant health impacts from catching the disease, the impact of lockdowns, school closures and reduced social interaction has been huge.

Among its recommendations, the guidance stresses the importance of meaningful consultation and engagement with children and young people in the planning process through the use of creative techniques such as Minecraft, Lego building, model making, and arts and crafts.

It also recommends collaborative working between planners and health and education professionals to better understand the experience of children and to create spatial solutions that improve that experience.

The guidance also says that, as part of their work, local authorities should explore the use of the Real Play Coalition’s Urban Play Framework. This tool for assessing the dimensions critical to ensure a play-friendly environment for optimal child development and learning was recently successfully field-tested in the London Borough of Barnet.

RTPI President Wei Yang FRTPI said:

“Providing a high quality built and natural environment for children to grow up in can have a significant positive impact on their health, wellbeing and future life chances, particularly as we begin the slow emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Major disruption to education, alongside the limited opportunities to see friends and wider families, to play and enjoy activities and the worry about the impact of Covid on their families, will have taken a heavy toll on some children - good town planning is essential if we are to help them recover.

“I am particularly pleased to see that one of the aims of this advice is to expand the scope of what is currently understood by most planning professionals as ‘planning for children’ – we must move beyond the provision of playgrounds and schools towards a more ambitious approach that encompasses all aspects of children’s lives.

Prof Peter Kraftl, Chair in Human Geography at the University of Birmingham, said:

“I was delighted to support and input into the creation of this important piece of guidance. Alongside burgeoning interest in how we can plan places that are more inclusive of children and their diverse needs, there is now considerable research evidence about the benefits of planning child-friendly places and how we might create them.

“Challenges to children's outdoor play and use of public spaces during Covid-19 have simply reinforced the need to plan more child-friendly places. This key document offers an overview of policy, design and planning practice, and mechanisms to ensure that children are included in planning processes that should be indispensable to a wide range of practitioners.”

Independent researcher, author and childhood consultant Tim Gill said:

“Creating child-friendly neighbourhoods is about much more than playgrounds. In fact, a child-friendly place looks a lot like a healthy and sustainable place: compact, walkable and green. As this thought-provoking guidance from the RTPI shows, places that work well for children are good for everyone. I encourage all planners to reflect on its findings and act on its recommendations.”

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