Announcing our Partnership with Bernard van Leer

We’re excited to announce our collaboration with the Bernard van Leer Foundation to improve urban public life for young children and families, as a part of their Urban95 initiative. Urban95 was developed to change the physical landscapes and opportunities that shape young children’s lives, specifically children below the age of five. It asks:

“What if all city leaders, planners, architects, and innovators experienced the world from 95 centimeters, the average height of a three-year-old? How might this change our approach to the design and maintenance of public space?”

Gehl and Gehl Institute are developing this strategic partnership to insert considerations for the youngest children in the built environment fields, change practice and policy among design and policy practitioners, as well as inspire leaders working across disciplines necessary to support early childhood development in the public realm.

Why 0-5?

There is a unique window of opportunity at this stage of life: children’s brains develop at an exponentially faster rate during their during their first years. Yet because very young children are generally overlooked in city planning, they face extraneous barriers and vulnerabilities. When cities better support the needs of young children, they can also benefit many other vulnerable city residents — including elderly and disabled adults — and even new parents.

Our Progress

In late 2017, we teamed up with Gehl, the practice, to lead a Copenhagen study tour with municipal leaders from one of the Foundation’s Urban95 cities, centered around the theme of early childhood development. We explored how the city acts as a platform to support the mobility of children and their caregivers, the role of safety and risk in designing quality spaces for play, the practical aspects of evaluating and maintaining the built environment, and much more.

This February, we held a three-day workshop at the Foundation’s headquarters in The Hague to discuss on the importance of public life data, brainstorm future strategies, and sharpen our theory of change for targeting early childhood development and the built environment.

So what’s next?

Soon, we’ll be sharing the first of several tools we are developing in coordination with the Foundation: 10 Principles to Support Happy, Healthy Children in a Playful, Friendly City. This document will synthesize our initial findings to help inform strategies for design, maintenance, and governance of public space.

Keep an eye on this space as we continue to generate and publish practical knowledge on how we envision improving public space for children and their caregivers. We hope you will help us promote widespread adoption of this knowledge with your own networks.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, or find out how you can get involved, email