Dhaka, Thursday, March 22, 2018


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Putting children first in urban planning

DHAKA, March 1, 2018 (BSS) - For most parents, the main question about any city is: is it a good place to raise kids? In the cities of developing countries, there are neither nice dog parks, nor children's parks. Even having one iconic urban park for children is not enough. What matters more is a wide availability of parks for the children.

Although many people find the idea of child-friendly cities endearing, they may not understand why children's active involvement in decisions and urban design is important. It's difficult for those to grasp that what's good for children is good for all.

As cities have soared higher and higher in Bangladesh by ignoring the street-level life, an essential component for residents remains to build relationships to each other and among others around. By literally taking it down to a child's level, people can increase the intensity of urban inter- connectedness and strengthen the fabric of a good quality of life.

A city designed from the eyes of children encourages ideas healthy for all. Parks are spaces for socializing, small-sized planning to break up large- scale anonymity, pedestrian's challenges for safety, auto-centric hubs, early engagement for social responsibility and the list goes on and on.

At a recent roundtable held in the city, Saptarshi Chakraborty of Morgan Girls' School and College in Narayanganj said, "we want to live in a clean city with clean air. But air pollution is creating havoc in many cities including the capital, Dhaka." Her agony must have spoken of lack of parks, where one can inhale free and fresh air.

Quoting from research studies, she said the lungs of 25 percent children in Bangladesh cities are not functioning properly. The unplanned cityscapes, brick fields, and carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles are seriously damaging the children's health.

To name the world's most child-friendly city, Copenhagen usually comes up as every kid in the Danish capital has a playground within the walking distance and no two playgrounds are the same. In that case, Dhaka remains far beyond anyone's dream.

In the planning process of a city, children's participation is more than just asking them for their ideas and views. It's about listening to them, taking them seriously and turning their ideas and suggestions into reality. It is also about providing them with the ability to influence some of the things that affect them and help adults understand children's issues through their lens.

Experts in seminars and roundtables suggest guidelines to build urban resilience that support children, youth, girls and boys. It integrates child and human rights into resilient urban development, enabling children to become agents of resilience.

Public and private stakeholders can use these guidelines to assess and adapt current efforts to build resilience; identify opportunities; promote coordination and develop pathways to greater resilience through new initiatives.

It is anticipated that by 2030, at least 60 percent of the total population in different urban areas of Bangladesh will be comprised of children. These children will play leadership roles for the nation one day and it is proverbial that 'Children are the future of a nation.'

As Bangladesh makes social and economic progress, there is a variegated development spree in many urban areas. "But these development works should be planned keeping the priority of the children in mind," observes Syed Matiul Ahsan, Deputy Director, Humanitarian Sector, Save the Children.

Keeping pace with the development works, the cities are experiencing a boom in infrastructural development. With this in mind, Save the Children and Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) have been organizing workshops in different schools since August 2017 to make the children aware about urban planning and its effects.

The Ministry of Planning has taken up 10 strategic steps to augment the child rights policy, good upbringing and better services. Three of these steps are directly related to child-sensitive urban planning: providing children access to clean water, sanitation and healthy environment; ensuring their participation in defining their needs, developing programs and evaluating their success.

Moreover, the United Nations also states in its Child Rights Charter that the state parties should chalk out all development and habitat planning by prioritizing the children. But an alarming fact is that there is only two percent of urban area left for playgrounds for children with also looming threats of land-grabbers.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child championed children's participation in all social processes, but it wasn't until the early 2000s that UNICEF took that goal further by introducing the concept of cities by and for children.

Tahrim Maria Progga from Savar Girls' High School said though children comprise one-third of the total population, they are always neglected when it comes to their opinion. "Even if the matter is related to a child, he/she is not given any chance to say his/her opinion. The elders always make the decision regarding anything related to the well-being of children," she said.

However, it may go against the old maxim, but actually children must be seen and heard - especially in the cities in which they live. To enable this, a city should be designed on a scale that literally doesn't overshadow them, so that children can feel confident and safe.

This encourages children to interact with their neighborhood in age- appropriate ways and eventually shape it, as they grow older, in ways that empower and promote their active participation, something all citizens and their cities thrive on.