Last week I wrote about 6 year old Arianne who saw the issue crossing Centre Avenue in Ladner with her brothers and sisters and Grandmother, wrote a letter to Council, drew a picture of the problem and collected on her own a supportive 30 signature petition. This story was followed up on in the news media by CBC’s Justin McElroy and reporter/videographer at CTV news Emad Agahi.
We really don’t talk a lot about how disenfranchised the young, the disabled and the elderly are in the way that streets are configured, and we also don’t take into account that for these users being able to walk or wheel on the street or sidewalk is their major way of movement around the city.
Harriet Grant in The Guardian writes about a unique program in London England that utilizes youth thought and participation in design of streets and spaces.
Architect Dinah Bornat is the London Mayor’s Design Advocate and at the invitation of an east London local housing association and developers worked with youth on a new scheme for 1,000 residences in Aberfeldy Estates. Ms. Bornat’s first premise is that placing children first in the design process centres planning work around people and vehicle drivers.
Kids in this area are being driven to work because it is unsafe for them to cross the streets and walk to school. in involving children in the planning and design process, Ms. Bornat found that 89 percent of 16 to 18 year old kids said they had never been asked about any neighbourhood change or process.
Ms. Bornat states: “Young people can’t vote and they don’t pay taxes but don’t we want to know what they think? Too often we focus on negative issues to do with young people and we don’t think about their happiness and joy.”
By asking where youth want to play and gather with their friends, she was able to identify what space was important in the public realm. With a background in urban geography in their studies, the youth also understood the issues about road users and road sharing and understood the importance of lower traffic neighhbrourhoods to stronger communities.
Asking youth to be involved in planning discussions also fits in with the British Prime Minister’s Green Industrial Revolution promoting walking, cycling and walking, as well as the 175 million pound traffic reduction in neighbourhoods project.
This simple direct approach is being embraced by others. Ms. Bornat states “I am getting calls from leading architects and developers, local authorities, housing associations … when I speak to them they are excited about this approach. They get it, if you listen to young people you end up with better places to live.”
Ms. Bornat has partnered with other organizations to create a handbook on best practices for youth engagement. The youth participatory tool kit available here outlines how to involve youth in the “making and managing” of neighbourhoods.