Urban95: Cities for Young Children

Gehl Institute, along with Gehl, are collaborating with the Bernard van Leer Foundation on its Urban95 initiative, which focuses on enhancing everyday public spaces for young children (ages 0-5) and their caretakers.

The Urban95 initiative 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 Institute and Gehl developed 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 city residents — including elderly and disabled adults — as well as new parents.


Our Progress


In late 2017, we led 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.

In February 2018, 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.


Space to Grow


Stemming from this research, Gehl Institute published Space to Grow, a report that outlines 10 principles to create a healthy, playful, and nurturing environment for children and young families. The document synthesizes our initial findings to help inform strategies for design, maintenance, and governance of public space. In addition to parks and playgrounds, we emphasize the importance of sidewalks, streets, and plazas in creating a more child-friendly city. Our hope is that the report can make planning for children, particularly under the age of 5, more central in the city governance process. You can read it here.

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