Rotterdam + Vienna 2020

Designing Cities for Children

As cities across Puget Sound grapple with their newfound growth and prosperity, little is being done to account for the experience of children. Government policies, disproportionate economic growth, short-sighted market forces, institutional racism, and housing affordability and availability have made cities into the playground for affluent working professionals and do not fully accommodate and plan for families. In order to better understand how to incorporate and support families into the growing urban environment, we will look specifically at how public spaces can be leveraged to support children’s play within the urban fabric. To do this, we will research select cities that are supporting child friendly policies and environments then develop a set of actionable policies and strategies applicable for urbanized areas across the Puget Sound region.

Problem Statement

While the cities in Puget Sound are changing, the requirements for childhood development have not. Children still need a place to play. They need places to develop their thinking, take risks, and learn about the world they live in, all while being safe and protected.

Over the past couple decades, downtowns have seen a dramatic increase in residents. These residents skew younger and wealthier, and later choose to leave the downtown core concurrent with childbirth. This trend exists in downtown Seattle and is likely to repeat itself in other cities in the metropolitan area as areas densify and cost of living increases.

There at least five principle reasons why this problem should be addressed:

  1. Children as an Indicator Specie— Families and children tend to be the first indicator that the public perceives a location as safe and accessible. Lack of children in an environment may be symptomatic of a variety of systematic issues. Using children as the baseline for universal design also means that the environment will also likely be accessible to other populations.
  2. Environmental Sustainability— Dense and efficient development minimizes impact on the environment. Until U.S. cities can change to accommodate families and children, we will continue to see suburbanization and sprawl around the region.
  3. Cultural and Community Resiliency— When cities cannot accommodate children, residents may choose to live in downtowns during one specific phases of life, creating a transitory population and socio-economic segregation.
  4. Equity— Families, particularly low-income families, must live further outside of economic centers due to lack of affordability and access, creating disparities and barriers to economic opportunity. This project will not examine housing affordability, but the nature of this disparity should not be overlooked.
  5. Health & Well-being— Studies indicate that adequate common area play spaces promote social cohesion, improve physical and mental health, and support the development of problem solving skills in children.

Play spaces in urban areas are broader than the conventional notion of playgrounds. They include an array of public and private spaces that foster enjoyment and recreation. Play is also intergenerational. Public spaces designed for play tend to be safer, foster community, and improve overall health. Public spaces are also a societal leveler.

Key Questions for Our Region

Public spaces and parks account for 12% of land in Seattle citywide and are typically limited to single uses. This study will examine how urban development and economic opportunity can be harnessed in Seattle and the Puget Sound to allow for more urban play. Key questions will include:

  • How can existing and new public spaces be leveraged to create a more playful environment amidst a dynamically changing urban landscape?
  • What forms of play can we implement that support equity and cultural resiliency?
  • What are some best practices and guidelines that have worked elsewhere that are applicable in our region?