Developing child-friendly cities: Young children’s participation in urban planning

Abstract views: 1236 / PDF downloads: 689




City planning, Child-friendly infrastructure, Nature, Play, Young children


This article is based on a collaborative project between a municipality and a research team, aiming to investigate participatory methods that promote young children’s interest and participation in, and access to express their views in connection with, urban planning processes. The research question was: What characterizes a child-friendly city for young children and their families? The article is framed within the perspective of children’s rights, affordance and child-friendly outdoor environments. The project has employed multiple research methods. The participants were children (aged 3-6) and parents from three early childhood education and care institutions. The children (n=16) participated in guided tours, field conversations, drawing and constructive play using Lego. The parents (n=14) participated by identifying the locations that they preferred to frequent with their children, and a structured survey was used to identify what the parents liked and disliked about the places they identified. Our findings indicate that there are four important features that characterise a child-friendly city: 1) The availability of ‘green lungs’, 2) Creative and challenging play opportunities, 3) Places for the whole family, and 4) Safe playgrounds and walking routes. We discuss how better knowledge of what characterizes a child-friendly city can contribute to planning processes.


Agarwal, M. K., Sehgal, V., & Ogra, A. (2021). Creating a child-friendly environment: An interpretation of children’s drawings from planned neighborhood parks of lucknow city. Societies, 11(3), 80-92. DOI:

Arup. (2017). Cities alive: Designing for urban childhoods. Arup.

Ataol, Ö., Krishnamurthy, S., & Van Wesemael, P. (2019). Children's participation in urban planning and design: A systematic review. Children, Youth and Environments, 29(2), 27-47. DOI:

Ataol, Ö., Krishnamurthy, S., Druta, O., & van Wesemael, P. (2022). Towards inclusive urban environments for infants and toddlers: Assessing four urban neighborhoods in Istanbul with mothers. Children & Society, 36(6), 1177-1193. DOI:

Barker, J. (2003). Passengers or political actors? Children's participation in transport policy and the micro political geographies of the family. Space and Polity, 7(2), 135-151. DOI:

Bosco, F. J. & Joassart-Marcelli, P. (2015). Participatory planning and children’s emotional labor in the production of urban nature. Emotion, Space and Society, 16, 30–40. DOI:

Broberg, A., Kyttä, M., & Fagerholm, N. (2013). Child-friendly urban structures: Bullerby revisited. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 35, 110-120. DOI:

Broch, T. B., Gundersen, V., Vistad, O. I., Selvaag, S. K., & Wold, L. C. (2022). Barn og natur–organiserte møteplasser for samvær og naturglede. NINA Temahefte 87, 5-31.

Brown, F. C. (2011). Playwork: A Profession challenging societal factors devaluing childrens play. Journal of Student Wellbeing. 5(1), 58-70. DOI:

Carroll, P., Witten, K., Asiasiga, L., & Lin, E. Y. (2019). Children's engagement as urban researchers and consultants in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Can it increase children's effective participation in urban planning?. Children & Society, 33(5), 414-428. DOI:

Cele, S. & van Der Burgt, D. (2015). Participation, consultation, confusion: professionals' understandings of children's participation in physical planning. Children's Geographies, 13(1), 14-29. DOI:

Cele, S. (2006). Communicating place: methods for understanding children's experience of place [Unpublished Doctorate thesis], Stockholm University

Christian, H., Zubrick, S. R., Foster, S., Giles-Corti, B., Bull, F., Wood, L., Knuiman, M., Brinkman, S., Houghton, S., & Boruff, B. (2015). The influence of the neighborhood physical environment on early child health and development: A review and call for research. Health & Place, 33, 25-36. DOI:

Clark, A. (2017). Listening to young children, expanded third edition: A guide to understanding and using the mosaic approach (3rd. ed.). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Clement, S. & Waitt, G. (2018). Pram mobilities: affordances and atmospheres that assemble childhood and motherhood on-the-move. Children's Geographies, 16(3), 252-265. DOI:

Cutts, B. B., Darby, K. J., Boone, C. G., & Brewis, A. (2009). City structure, obesity, and environmental justice: An integrated analysis of physical and social barriers to walkable streets and park access. Social science & medicine, 69(9), 1314-1322. DOI:

Derr, V. & Kovács, I. G. (2015). How participatory processes impact children and contribute to planning: A case study of neighborhood design from Boulder, Colorado, USA. Journal of Urbanism, 10(1), 29–48. DOI:

Drammen Municipality. (2023). Co-creation/Participation. Retrieved from:

Ergler, C. R., Freeman, C., & Guiney, T. (2021). Walking with preschool‐aged children to explore their local wellbeing affordances. Geographical Research, 59(1), 118-135. DOI:

Ergler, C. R., Freeman, C., & Guiney, T. (2022). Pre‐schoolers’ vision for liveable cities: Creating ‘care‐full’urban environments. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie, 113(2), 131-150. DOI:

Ergler, C. R., Kearns, R., & Witten, K. (2016). Exploring children’s seasonal play to promote active lifestyles in Auckland, New Zealand. Health & Place, 41, 67-77. DOI:

Ergler, C., Smith, K., Kotsanas, C., & Hutchinson, C. (2015). What makes a good city in pre-schoolers' eyes? Findings from participatory planning projects in Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Urban Design, 20(4), 461-478. DOI:

Freeman, C., Ergler, C., & Guiney, T. (2017). Planning with preschoolers: City mapping as a planning tool. Planning Practice & Research, 32(3), 297-318. DOI:

Gauvin, L., Tizzoni, M., Piaggesi, S., Young, A., Adler, N., Verhulst, S., Ferres, L., & Cattuto, C. (2020). Gender gaps in urban mobility. Humanit & Social Sciences Communications, 7(11), 1-13. DOI:

Gibson, J. J. (1979). An ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin

Gill, T. (2014). The benefits of children's engagement with nature: A systematic literature review. Children Youth and Environments, 24(2), 10-34. DOI:

Gill, T. (2021). Urban playground: How child-friendly planning and design can save cities. Riba Publishing. DOI:

Graneheim, U. H., Lindgren, B. M., & Lundman, B. (2017). Methodological challenges in qualitative content analysis: A discussion paper. Nurse Education Today, 56, 29-34. DOI:

Hagen, A. L. & Andersen, B. (2021). Introduksjon til ung medvirkning, kreativitet og konflikt i planlegging. I A.L. Hagen & B. Andersen (Red.), Ung medvirkning: Kreativitet og konflikt i planlegging (Chapter 1, p. 11–41). Cappelen Damm Akademisk. DOI:

Haikkola, L., Pacilli, M. G., Horelli, L., & Prezza, M. (2007). Interpretations of urban child-friendliness: A comparative study of two neighborhoods in Helsinki and Rome. Children Youth and Environments, 17(4), 319-351. DOI:

Jørgensen, K. A. (2017). Storied landscapes: Children’s experiences and sense of place. In T.I.M. Waller, E. Ärlemalm-Hagsér, E.B.H. Sandseter, L. Lee-Hammond, K.S. Lekies & S. Wyver (Eds.). The sage handbook of outdoor play and learning. SAGE Publications, Limited. DOI:

Kallio, K. P., Wood, B. E., & Häkli, J. (2020). Lived citizenship: Conceptualising an emerging field. Citizenship Studies, 24(6), 713-729. DOI:

Källsmyr, K., Nergård, I., & Bratvold, B. (2013). Det er her jeg bor! Barn og unges medvirkning i kommunalplanlegging. 13.pdf

Kamruzzaman, S. S. (2017). Association between the built environment and children’s independent mobility: A meta-Analytic review. Journal of Transport Geography, 61, 104-117. DOI:

Kleine, D., Pearson, G., & Poveda, S. (2016). Participatory methods: Engaging children’s voices and experiences in research. Global Kids Online.

Krishnamurthy, S. (2019). Reclaiming spaces: child inclusive urban design. Cities & Health, 3(1-2), 86-98. DOI:

Kruger, J. S., & Chawla, L. (2002). “We know something someone doesn’t know”: children speak out on local conditions in Johannesburg. Environment and Urbanization, 14(2), 85-96. DOI:

Kyttä, M. (2003). Children in outdoor contexts: affordances and independent mobility in the assessment of environmental child friendliness. [Doctoral dissertation] Helsinki University of Technology.

Kyttä, M. (2004). The extent of children's independent mobility and the number of actualized affordances as criteria for child-friendly environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24(2), 179-198. DOI:

Lange, A. (2018). The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Little, H. (2015). Mothers’ beliefs about risk and risk-taking in children’s outdoor play. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 15(1), 24-39. DOI:

Mansfield, R. G., Batagol, B., & Raven, R. (2021). “Critical agents of change?”: Opportunities and limits to children’s participation in urban planning. Journal of Planning Literature, 36(2), 170-186. DOI:

Mensah, C. A., Andres, L., Perera, U., & Roji, A. (2016). Enhancing quality of life through the lens of green spaces: A systematic review approach. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(1), 142-163. DOI:

Merewether, J. (2018). Listening to young children outdoors with pedagogical documentation. International Journal of Early Years Education, 26(3), 259-277. DOI:

Nordbakke, S. (2019). Children's out-of-home leisure activities: Changes during the last decade in Norway. Children's Geographies, 17(3), 347-360. DOI:

Nordbø, E. C. A., Nordh, H., Raanaas, R. K., & Aamodt, G. (2020). Promoting activity participation and well-being among children and adolescents: a systematic review of neighborhood built-environment determinants. JBI Evidence Synthesis, 18(3), 370-458. DOI:

Raymond, C. M., Kyttä, M., & Stedman, R. (2017). Sense of place, fast and slow: The potential contributions of affordance theory to sense of place. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1674. DOI:

Ruud, M. E., Eika, A., Gohari, S., & Tønnesen, M. (2022). Sosiokulturell stedsanalyse for Strømsø [Sociocultural site analysis for Strømsø]. NIBR-Report 2022:6. Oslo Metropolitan University

Sinclair, R. & Franklin, A. (2000). A Quality Protects Research Briefing: Young People’s Participation. Department of Health, Research in Practice and Making Research Count: London.

Skar, M., Wold, L. C., Gundersen, V., & O’Brien, L. (2016). Why do children not play in nearby nature? Results from a Norwegian survey. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 16(3), 239-255. DOI:

Smith, K., & Kotsanas, C. (2014). Honouring young children’s voices to enhance inclusive communities. Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, 7(2), 187-211. DOI:

Thorén, A. K. H. & Nordbø, E. C. A. (2020). Er det plass til dem? Barn i by og tettsted. Plan, 52(2), 22-29. DOI:

UNCRC. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. United Nations.

UNCRC. (2013). General comment No. 17 on the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts (art. 31). United Nation.

UNICEF (2012). The state of the world’s children 2012: children in an urban world. UNICEF.

UNICEF (2018) Child Friendly Cities and Communities Handbook.

Wilks, J. & Rudner, J. (2013). A voice for children and young people in the city. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 29(1), 1-17. DOI:

Yao, S. & Xiaoyan, L. (2017). Exploration on ways of research and construction of Chinese child-friendly city: A case study of Changsha. Procedia Engineering, 198, 699–706. DOI:

Zhang, C., Dai, S., & Xia, H. (2020). Reuse of abandoned railways leads to urban regeneration: A tale from a rust track to a Green Corridor in Zhangjiakou. Urban Rail Transit, 6, 104-115. DOI:




How to Cite

Wilhelmsen, T., Øvreås, S., Roll-Hansen, H., Bjerknes, A.-L., & Thorrud, S. (2023). Developing child-friendly cities: Young children’s participation in urban planning. Journal of Childhood, Education & Society, 4(3), 274–290.