These Indian cities are attempting to create child-friendly urban spaces

Building a city that responds to the needs of infants and caregivers boils down to ensuring public spaces, transportation modes and neighbourhoods are safe and child-friendly. Pune, Udaipur and Bhubaneshwar are some of the Indian cities which are making an attempt through the Urban95 challenge.

 

Our cities are sprawling in all directions, with multiple new constructions across the cities and even the urban fringes. But, in the midst of all these, have we thought about how many spaces are exclusively designed for children?

While every adult needs a dedicated space for themselves, so do the children. In addition, neighbourhoods and roads are often unsafe for children, with an excess of vehicles, pollution and congestion. Thus, with growing urbanization, it is extremely important to have child-friendly cities today.


Save The Children defines the purpose of having child-friendly cities, “to provide children with a protected environment in which they can participate in organized activities to play, socialize, learn, and express themselves as they rebuild their lives.”

Through interventions, children can be protected from physical harm and psychological distress.

Thus, in order to make cities friendly for children and their caregivers, the Urban95 challenge was launched in India. This challenge is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Government of India and the Netherlands-based organisation, Bernard Van Leer Foundation (BVLF).

Yougal Tak, a Delhi-based urban planner at ICLEI South Asia, has been working extensively on the Urban95 initiative in India.

Explaining the purpose behind it, he says, “95 stands for the standard height of a three year old healthy child (95 centimeters) as per UNICEF guidelines. And, ‘urban’ as most people already know, means ‘city’. So Urban 95 is all about building an environment as seen from the eyes of a child.”

So, some of the elements that come into play as part of the drive are footpaths, streets, parks and playgrounds. When it comes to India, there are a slew of concerns surrounding these.

“Footpaths in India are not very levelled, and have multiple obstructions like trees and hawkers, and sometimes two-wheelers take over most of the space to escape traffic. And, in general, the roads are designed for motor vehicles rather than pedestrians. In addition to this, Indian cities are devoid of resting areas for kids and senior citizens,” adds Tak.

Image of a footpath in Bengaluru in extremely poor condition, unsuitable and unsafe for children and infants (Image credit: Citizen matters)


With a view to change these things and make places seamless and child-friendly, the Urban95 initiative kicked off in 2016 with Odisha’s capital Bhubaneshwar. In 2018, the BVLF formalised Urban95 partnerships with two new cities, Pune and Udaipur, launching the initiatives in both these cities in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

How the Urban95 challenge is shaping up

Udaipur, Bhubaneswar and Pune are the three cities where the Urban95 challenge is being implemented. In Bhubaneshwar, measures are being taken to construct new parks and make public spaces around the eight-lane thoroughfare in Janpath Road safe for families and children. On the other hand, Pune is focusing its energy on family-friendly walkways and traffic plazas.

Udaipur is among the 10 pioneering Urban95 cities globally, joining Pune and other prominent global cities like Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Recife, and Sao Paulo. Tak, who has been associated with Urban95 in Udaipur since its inception, is satisfied with the progress made.

There are two phases as part of this project. Udaipur has already completed the first phase and is currently in the second phase.

Speaking about the first phase, Tak says that it was more of a temporary intervention or a testing phase.

“For the initial phase, tactical urbanism was used as a tool to make cities friendlier for children and their caregivers. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only four of the six proposed projects could be executed so far,” he quips.

The four interventions are:

The traffic calming measure outside the Udaipur school, developed as part of the Urban95 (Image credit: Bernard Van Leer Foundation)




  • Restoration of a five-decade old beautiful park (Manikya Lal Verma Park), which was losing its glory due to the lack of maintenance.


The second phase which has been planned for a three year time period (February 2021 through February 2024) is aiming at more permanent solutions. “The objective of the second phase is to take into account all the learnings from the first phase and build on them,” says Tak.


While the first phase was aimed at smaller interventions in restricted locations like streets, plazas and some parks, the second phase is more large-scale. Some of these are creating child priority zones across Udaipur, ensuring stretches of road are seamless and devoid of barriers, setting up model anganwadis, primary health care centres and organising capacity building workshops for government officials and workers involved in the phase.


Are child-friendly cities achievable in India?

The Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge, a scaled-up version of the Urban95 kicked-off in 2021, is directed towards designing and building cities for young children and their families. The initiative is a three year project being run by MoHUA as part of the Smart Cities Mission along with BVLF and World Resources Institute (WRI) India.

As per the official website of Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge, “The challenge is to do with enabling Indian cities to adopt an early childhood lens while designing and building neighbourhoods so as to promote the health and well being of young children and their caregivers.”

So far, over 60 cities participated in the open call for applications and conceptualized early childhood-oriented solutions in urban neighbourhoods. 25 shortlisted cities out of these are now implementing trials and pilots which are expected to last for six months.

 

Edited by Roshni Shroff

 

Some resources and links to help you learn more about Urban95 challenge in India -

  1. Bernard Van Leer Foundation

  2. 25 cities selected for Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge cohort