Cities & Health Call for Papers

The child-friendly city

Cities & Health

Healthy cities must be inclusive places; catering for the needs of all regardless of age, income, status or ethnicity. The foundations of a healthy life-course are laid down in our early years. Placemaking that focuses on healthy development for children will deliver benefits over many, many decades. It can affect future as well as current generations. The economic and social benefits of whole life approaches are significant in terms of a healthier population. However, children are often overlooked in public policy even among public health and built environment professionals working on place-based health. Children don’t vote or pay taxes, and (it is assumed) are not capable of contributing to the development of policy. Children’s health can be boxed up as ‘paediatrics’ and all too often public health practitioners focus elsewhere.

In this special issue we are looking for a range of submissions including: empirical papers, theoretical discourse, reviews and case studies, to develop the conversation about healthy and child-friendly places in our towns and cities. We want to know what is happening is cities, what has been tried, what has worked (and what does not work); so we are also looking for what we are calling ‘City Shorts’, describing real examples of design and place-making for (or by) children in cities.

We want to hear from scholars and from practice in cities across the globe.

  • Examples of how and where children’s health fits into urban policy.
  • Stories of cities making progress with place-based health approaches for child development.
  • Case studies of design and research for child-friendly place-making around the world.

There are many strands to the conversations we need to have about this subject. These are some of the themes we have distilled:

  • Rights of the child
  • The evidence for child-friendly place-making
  • Supporting play
  • Childhood freedom and active living
  • Contact with nature
  • Listening to children

The purpose of this special issue is to draw together these strands of the conversation, to highlight best practice, to report on the state of the evidence, and to help practitioners, researchers and policy makers make the links between the health of the child and the health of the city.

The six themes are outlined below:


Rights of the child

A good place to start is with the rights of the child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children – amongst other things - the right to a safe and healthy environment, the right to play, the right to be involved in decision-making and to express their opinions. Children in the Global South face very different problems to those in the North, but these rights are universal. In the developed world whilst many serious childhood diseases have virtually disappeared from view, in their place are chronic conditions: obesity, type II diabetes, falling rates of physical activity and increased rates of anxiety and mental health issues.

  • What would a ‘Rights of the Child’ respecting city look like for children?
  • What are the characteristics of environments that are safe and support healthy development for children?
  • How can or should spatial planning systems support the rights of the child?


The evidence for child-friendly place-making

The next vital strand to the conversation is evidence: we need robust evidence about the health and well-being of children going about their daily activities; how they interact with their environments; what keeps them healthy; and what – within the urban context, makes them unhealthy. Children’s geography and child studies have something to offer us here, although data about where children spend their time or the places they prefer is generally very thin. This means that policy makers have little evidence about the children in their local area, which makes child-centred policy development hard to achieve.

  • How can we make places healthy for children?
  • Do we know how the environment affects child health, or which elements of the neighbourhood environment children like and dislike, and which they consider to be healthy?
  • What evidence do policy makers have about local children, and what evidence do they need?


Supporting play

The quality of children’s play and movement all support their healthy social, physical and mental development. Outdoor environments are important, and can support or hinder developmental processes. In some places opportunities for play are missing, or if they are present are poor – small patches of ground, fenced and gated, sometimes with equipment that does little to support imaginative, active and social play. Children constantly seek out opportunities to play, to learn, to experience, to explore – and they love climbing, jumping, going up, down, under, over and through wherever there are opportunities to do so. Running, jumping, climbing, balancing and even falling all help gross motor skills development, proprioception and understanding of risk.

  • Can we build safe opportunities for play and independence in the street, the journey to school and the everyday environments of a child’s life?
  • What effect does the absence of these opportunities have on children’s wellbeing and development?


Childhood freedom and active living

As well as movement for play, the way that children travel in the city tells us about infrastructure, street design and safety. Streets and public spaces that prioritise active travel and keep motorised traffic separate, enable safe independent movement and support cycling and walking to school as a widespread norm. Where streets are dominated by cars and parking, children are driven to school; where the infrastructure and design for active travel is lacking, parents choose other, safer, modes for their off-spring. A high proportion of children cycle to school in the Netherlands and it is no coincidence that this country has a high level of child happiness and satisfaction. Parents concerns about safety can place limits on freedom, but autonomy and agency are also important. Being able to move from place to place safely and independently is a really significant step – but many of the children of today have less freedom and autonomy than their parents or grandparents, and fewer opportunities to roam or explore the city without adult supervision or facilitation. 

  • What do child-friendly streets look like?
  • How can we enable children to travel safely and independently?
  • How does place influence freedom, and what impact does this have on child health and wellbeing?


Contact with nature

A really significant and rich topic for discussion about children’s health in the city is to do with green space and nearby nature. Access to green space at home and at school can deliver significant benefits, many of which are already recognised in terms of evidence. This includes fascinating work on outdoor education which points to the significant educational benefits of working with children in natural settings, and the way in which all children – particularly those with an educational disadvantage – respond to the richness of an outdoor environment. Nature-deficit disorder describes the consequence of children being denied the opportunity to connect with the natural world.

  • What do we know about children’s contact and relationship with nature?
  • How well does the geography of city children relate to the geography of urban greenspace?
  • What policy responses are needed to link greenspace design and delivery to children’s health and wellbeing?


Listening to children

Finally, there is a strand in this work about the way in which children create the city – where they have opportunity to express their views about their environments and shape the places where they live. Elaborate and formalised systems of consultation and participation embedded in spatial planning systems do not work well for children – particularly those younger school aged children not yet in the scope of youth parliaments.

  • How should children be involved?
  • How can they express their views, and how should practitioners respond?

The good news is that there are cities and communities around the world that are embracing the value and challenge of place-making for and with children. There are cities that recognise that children can influence sustainable behaviour in adults. There are places where child-friendly design is used to help attract families. There are cities that close streets to traffic in order to support play, independence and community interaction.  There are local authorities that assess opportunities for play because of a legal play-sufficiency duty. There are places where primary school children assess their own local neighbourhoods for healthy placemaking. There are tools that allow children to contribute information about their routes to school, the places where they play and where they like to spend their time

Submission Instructions

The deadline for submission to this special issue is 30 November 2017. Submission is via Cities & Health Editorial Manager site and manuscripts should follow the usual instructions on the journal’s Instruction for Authors page. During submission, authors should indicate that they wish the manuscript to be reviewed for inclusion in the special issue.

It is not just research articles that are being sought. Examples from urban policy, stories of progress being made, case studies and commentary from around the world are all welcome.

The Guest Editors of the special issue welcome expressions of interest from authors, in advance of the submission deadline. Early submissions are also welcome.

Editorial information

  • Guest Editor: Ariane De Lannoy, University of Cape Town, South Africa (
  • Guest Editor: Hannah Wright, Urban Planner, Arup, Amsterdam (
  • Guest Editor: Samuel Williams, Landscape Architect, Arup, London (
  • Guest Editor: Caroline Brown, The Urban Institute, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (
  • Special Advisor: Tim Gill, Independent scholar, advocate and consultant on childhood at Rethinking Childhood