Tactical urbanism with children and adolescents
17 de Febrero de 2023
"If you see a city with many children and many old people using the city's public spaces, it's a sign that it's a good quality place for people." - Jan Gehl. Danish architect, leader in people-centered urban design.
Desires, opinions and needs of children and adolescents are not always considered when designing our cities. This pattern not only threatens the autonomy and development of this segment of the population but also undermines the usability, coexistence and accessibility of public spaces. The urgency of transcending the adult-centered vision of urban design is shared by Cecilia Benzano, social worker at the Delta Children's Club:
"Children, girls, adolescents are generally relegated from those things that concern adults. Including them in a proposal where they are part because they live in that place, because they inhabit it, because they go through it, I think it is very positive, it involves them and that is great."
This shift in paradigm was the main focus of Activate, a project developed in Ciudad del Plata (Department of San José, Uruguay), in the neighborhood known as Delta El Tigre, delimited by the Santa Lucía River, Río de la Plata and the National Route 1. The "Delta" is the nearest urban center to Montevideo within the Department of San José, it is in considerable growth, increasing by five its population in 50 years (2011 census: 20,240 inhabitants). In comparison to its neighbors, it has the highest proportion of people under 29 years of age, an atypical case in a country with an aging population structure.
"Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." - Jane Jacobs, American-Canadian, journalist, urban planner and sociopolitical activist.
Thiago Duarte, a student at Liceo Delta El Tigre expressed in a workshop: "There really should be more space for us citizens who go on foot, by bicycle, who prefer not to use a car." "There are 890 students who circulate constantly in the high school; that leads to a coexistence in the street of pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles, cars, buses and there are no sidewalks" added Jonathan Balbi, high school deputy director.
Activate set out to address some of these challenges, promoting design and collective action: "As the children participated, every day we realized that they were more involved in the activity itself and began to conquer their classmates to participate," said Silvia Castro, high school director.
In November, children and adolescents from the area came together to paint and carry out the intervention they had imagined for their community within the framework of this process.
“It may not often be thought of as such but in fact transportation planning and policy is inevitably political because it affects different groups of people in different ways” - Karel Martens, Dutch Professor of Transport and Justice at Israel Institute of Technology
The tactical urbanism intervention of Activate prioritized the circulation of pedestrians and cyclists, particularly around educational institutions and public spaces to improve accessibility and safety in daily journeys for children, adolescents and their families.
The intervention includes, among other designs: delimitation of spaces and pedestrian crossings, streets with cyclist priority, strategies to reduce vehicular speed and sidewalks with colored shapes to make journeys more fun, enjoyable, and motivating.
This has also raised disapproval among some adults who usually move in motor vehicles. In fact, some of the lowering-speed strategies are still avoided by some individual vehicle drivers.
"It is necessary that adults understand and sensitize ourselves about the importance of the urban environment in the integral development of children, and about the need to generate pacified environments to promote their autonomy," says Noelia Botana, UNDP-MOVÉS consultant when explaining the design achieved.
Manuel Perdomo, teacher of School No. 96 highlights that the ideas of the students were really considered for the intervention. "I found it extremely interesting the return that was permanently made to us. They could see how the data and the contributions they made were taken into account, and that is not minor when the children feel involved."
Getting people to appreciate the initiative and encourage them to change their daily mobility behaviors is part of the cultural change that this experience attempted to promote. Such change also ensures the sustainability of this type of initiative in time and space, generating demand for its expansion to new locations in the city.
"How we design the cities themselves – will be decisive in getting on track to achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” - António Guterres. Secretary-General of the United Nations.
From the very beginning, the scalability was the focus of the process: measuring and evaluating quickly to be able to replicate learning in other cities. In fact, Activate was based on UNDP's cumulative experience in urban innovations, particularly in TuCalle, where learnings can continue to be replicated through this guide.
The interventions were monitored by the teams of UNDP, the MOVÉS Project, the Intendencia de San José and the Municipality of Ciudad del Plata, in partnership with the UTEC who supported with cameras and sensors for the field surveys. All institutions were fundamental to carry out the initiative, as Yarwynn Silveira, Traffic and Security Director at the Intendencia de San José, celebrated:
"Inside the Intendencia and the Municipality, a team was formed that accompanied the UNDP technical team in all instances and has been very enriching ... There was a very great professionalization on the part of the technical team".
For local authorities, Activate has been recognized as an innovative and transformative process. The local governments managed to incorporate more inclusive and sustainable ways for city managing, generating new capacities that remain in place for future urban designs and interventions. "It was a great challenge for the Municipality and our management: to apply something new, innovative... this is a very important cultural change where the center is the people and their mobility," clarifies the Director.
"It is about lowering the optics of the administration to the height of the children, so as not to lose anyone. Accepting the diversity that the children bring as a guarantee of all diversities (...) It is assumed that, when the city is more adapted to children, it will also be more appropriate for everyone." - Francesco Tonucci, Italian psychopedagogue.
Video - Activate: implementation phase