NOW ONLINE: Shaping Spaces for Gen Z Urban Thinkers Campus report from the Urban Synergies Group

NOW ONLINE: Shaping Spaces for Gen Z Urban Thinkers Campus report from the Urban Synergies Group

The Urban Thinkers Campus “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” was an international forum proposed to discuss realistic pathways that enable environments that foster healthy childhood development in the broadest sense of this term i.e. including mental and physical capacities, social and psychological development as well as connectedness to community. The Campus was organised by the Urban Synergies Group and the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra, on 8th March 2017. “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” was the first Urban Thinkers Campus for the Asia Pacific region, and it was held in Canberra, Australia.

The Forum created a platform for an evidence-based dialog on issues relating to the state of children’s health today and invited the widest range of stakeholders to be part of this event. Participants from stakeholder groups: parents, the general public, Government, NGOs, academia and community services were well represented. The central themes discussed in the Campus were child health, physical inactivity, environmental design, child empowerment and the right to play and interact. The premises going in to the Forum were:  (1) Current societal norms for the general physical condition of children are too low, (2) Current societal norms for body weight status are too high, (3) Many children today have fewer opportunities to develop social skills and psychological resilience than they would have had in the past and (4) To reverse these trends will require a societal shift, with specific objectives to be agreed as the core drivers for change and the available societal resources aligned to achieve those objectives. The societal challenges posed for discussion were:

1.      All children have the right to the best opportunities we can provide for their social, psychological and physical development – how can we do this better?

2.      We need to provide more opportunities for children to achieve and maintain good general levels of physical activities as a lifestyle norm – how can we achieve this?

Three main themes guided the Campus through Urban Thinkers talks (presentations) and the Urban Labs (round-table discussions). The three theme issues were: Issue 1: Children and the built environment, Issue 2: Designs around children’s health, and Issue 3: Play.

From the discussions, there was wide consensus that urgent action was needed. All participants were asked to brainstorm the key barriers to build healthier environments but, overall, to focus on the possibilities for positive change. The outcome from these discussions was the development of proposals for action from each of the three theme areas.

The most highly supported proposals for action were:

·         Issue 1: Safe access, well-designed routes around schools - daily active transport built in;

·         Issue 2: Play infrastructure for all ages/ co-design best practice learning from overseas;

·         Issue 3: Environmental movement/play in all schools, supported with loose material/ equipment (funding to implement).

Whilst these were the top-rated proposals, two further proposals from each theme area also received significant support and may also be worthy of consideration for implementation. These were (in rank order):

·         Issue 1: Design and place "Kids at Play" signage to promote speed reduction on streets; Co-location of shops and play spaces;

·         Issue 2: Co-design/engagement using school curriculum - children's input relevant to their health and physical activity; Safe walking and cycling path (Map + App) QR coded check-points, social school support element;

·         Issue 3: Safer speeds (30 km/h or 15 km/h) near areas where children's play has priority; Promote awareness of importance of play (strategy to target Government, stakeholders, communities and schools).

In order to deliver beneficial change, key barriers must be overcome. The key barriers identified under Issue 1 were: (1) safety – mainly from cars but also ‘stranger danger’ and personal injury whilst using equipment, (2) time – of parents and teachers and also in-curriculum, (3) timeframes, funding priorities and fiscal prudence within Government and (4) a lack of community and shared responsibility.

Under Issue 2, key barriers were: (1) not enough natural play space or time to use it, (2) involvement of children and parents/ guardians/ schools in design of activities and spaces and (3) education – do children know what is good/ bad, do their parents, do teachers?

Under Issue 3, key barriers were: (1) physical education and play not valued enough or allocated sufficient time and (2) loss of well-maintained play space and lack of play equipment and (3) people resource to facilitate play or sporting activities.

Following on from the top three proposals, an integrated system-wide approach to the issue was recommended to directly impact not just the top three priority issues but many other issues that emerged during the discussion as well.

Key recommendations:

1.      'Safe access, well-designed routes around schools - daily active transport built in' could be achieved by creating safer speeds (30 km/h or 15 km/h) near areas where children's play has priority. App games that are playful and encourage children to be outside and being active can help raise awareness and function as an individualised tool to get children more active.

2.      'Play infrastructure for all ages/ co-design best practice learning from overseas' can be accomplished by introduction of weekend pop up road closure e.g. reclaiming the street initiative– introducing temporary play spaces for all. Co- design opportunities in government processes and community based initiatives can empower children. On a grassroots level, creative “Kids at Play” signage, designed by the community can be used on local streets to promote speed reduction fostering unique community characteristics to emerge.

3.      Environmental movement/play in all schools supported with loose material equipment (funding to implement) can be delivered in an integrated way as part of the promotion and awareness raising of importance of play. This coordinated approach could be delivered as part of the ACT Government preventative health coordinator office. A strategy is required to target governments, stakeholders, communities and schools.

It was clear also from discussions at the Forum that all sectors have a role to play in order to achieve the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, including some stakeholder groups not present at the discussions. That said, the following key actors can be identified because of their particular role in society or the specific expertise that they can bring to bear. Local Governments have a responsibility to promote the social and cultural diversity and economy of the region and ensure that the built environment and services support the needs of residents, including infrastructure, public transport and safe and accessible public spaces. School communities have a primary role to provide education and developmental opportunities for all children. Children have the most inquisitive and resourceful minds that we have available to us and we should engage them in shaping spaces for their future. Universities and research institutions are primary innovators and problem solvers, have the resources and expertise to provide specialist training and the capacity to develop pilot projects or test proof-of-concept proposals before roll-out to the wider community. The Media can be an important vehicle for public education and awareness-raising. Businesses may bring entrepreneurial opportunity to solve particular problems or can support initiatives with more flexible workplace policy. Non-Government and Sporting Organisations have considerable existing capacity that, effectively targeted, could support many aspects of the change agenda with minimal impact on additional resource requirements. Therefore, the “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus contributed to the following 9 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

·         Good health and well-being

·         Quality education

·         Gender equality

·         Industry innovation and infrastructure

·         Reduced inequalities

·         Sustainable cities and communities

·         Life on land

·         Peace, justice and strong institutions

·         Partnership on goals 

In summary, the Urban Thinkers Campus “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” contributed to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda by bringing a wide range of key stakeholders together to critically discuss potential future approaches and opportunities and to empower children in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Campus was also important to test innovative and transformational approaches to key decision making, as well as to identify and agree on tangible actions that may achieve effective outcomes for childhood obesity prevention and healthier environments for children and as a consequence for all generations.

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Article by Aline Peres dos Santos
Photo Credits: Aline Peres dos Santos (CC)