Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities

Victoria Derr, Louise Chawla, Mara Mintzer

New Village Press



Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices for Planning Sustainable Communities is the product of two parallel initiatives: the Growing Up in Cities programme of UNESCO and the Child Friendly Cities Initiative of UNICEF. After initial implementation in the 1970s, Growing Up in Cities was revived by UNESCO at the same time that UNICEF designed its Child Friendly Cities Initiative. In both cases, this was in preparation for the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in 1996. Both programmes seek to put the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into practice in urban development, and the two evolved with reference to each other. Two of the editors of Environment and Urbanization, Sheridan Bartlett and David Satterthwaite, served as advisors on both sides. The Child Friendly Cities Initiative seeks to integrate children’s rights into all sectors of urban policy and practice, whereas Growing Up in Cities shows how to include the voices of children and youth in urban decision-making, with an emphasis on low-income communities. Placemaking with Children and Youth updates the 2002 manual written for Growing Up in Cities by David Driskell, Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth (Earthscan/UNESCO, 2002). In addition to the tried-and-true approaches included in this manual, it adds many examples of dynamic experimentation in participatory practices over the intervening years and new digital methods.

Placemaking with Children and Youth draws together methods from around the world, implemented in places of both privilege and disadvantage. In addition to drawing on experiences from Growing Up in Cities, Child Friendly Cities and other initiatives, it builds on a US programme established in 2009 and still going strong, Growing Up Boulder, which integrates young people from the ages of 3 to 18 in city planning and design. All three of the book’s authors worked together on this programme, with the second author also previously serving as principal coordinator for UNESCO’s revival of Growing Up in Cities. Growing Up Boulder began as a partnership of the city government, school district, and the University of Colorado, with a commitment that at least half of its projects would involve children from historically underrepresented populations. In Colorado, this means children from low-income families, Latinx families, new immigrants, and children with disabilities. In keeping with this commitment, many of the book’s examples show children exercising their voice and agency in difficult settings, including informal settlements in India and Africa, working-class neighbourhoods in Latin America and Puerto Rico, an Aboriginal settlement in Australia, and hospitals for long-term care for children with AIDS and related diseases in South Africa.

Twelve chapters bring together experience on establishing programmes and partnerships to give young people a voice in their communities, sustaining partnerships, the ethics of participation, conducting background research to understand a community’s history and issues and how it is functioning for its children, implementing participatory planning through work with young people, intergenerational events, analysing and reporting out ideas, and evaluating progress. Five chapters contain directions for nearly 100 participatory methods and variations. Finally, the chapter titled “Putting It Together and Taking Action” shares eight international case studies that show how a variety of methods can be combined to help create more welcoming, green and playful communities where children can move about safely and independently.

Placemaking with Children and Youth won the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. It was created as a one-stop guidebook for anyone who wants to give young people a voice in their communities. In addition to the many participatory methods and processes that it covers, it references other manuals and resources for child and youth participation published by youth advocacy, child rights, and development organizations, pointing readers in further directions where useful material on child and youth participation can be found.

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Book note prepared by Louise Chawla

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