How are the children doing?
In August 2019 Hyahno Moser from Nature Play Queensland provided a presentation and screening of the Neighbourhood Play Project documentary at the PedBikeTrans seminar held at WSP's office at 900 Ann Street.
The documentary tells the story of a project lead by Nature Play Queensland in 2018 in two Queensland communities. The aim of the project was to help the communities to activate their neighbourhood as places where children can independantly play in their neighbourhood with friends.
Hyahno's presentation and the documentary raised several points that are very relevant to the planning and design of our neighbourhoods to support active transport.
Perceptions of road safety are key to supporting childrens' ability to independently move around their neighbourhood. The documentary showed how constraining fear of traffic is to neighbourhood play. The neighbourhoods in the documentary were outer suburban and acreage suburbs with almost no traffic, lots of asphalt, and hardly any dedicated pedestrian space. Yet one of the senior-primary school children interviewed would not consider crossing the road because they were scared of traffic - despite there being no cars.
Hyahno shared some worrying statistics that show how children of today are growing up in a very different environment than their parents and grandparents.
- less than 1 in 5 children are physically fit
- only 8% of children play outdoors every day
- 87% of Welsh children are not alowed to play in their neighbourhood - what about QLD kids?
- children are now spending most of their time playing indoors
What came out strongly in the documentary is that there are two factors that prevent children from playing in their neighbourhoods:
Fear for the safety of the children
Lack of trust that other people will not harm children
The way our road and active travel networks are designed in residential communities can make a big difference in changing both of these factors. Creating neighbourhoods where children can safely walk and cycle can reduce the fear of traffic. Walking and cycling communities tend to have more social interaction, residents are more connected and know their neighbours, and people look out for each other.
UNICEF has a global initiative to support the development of Child Friendly Cities. Their mantra states that 'every child has the right to grow up in an environment where they feel safe and secure ....'. There are a myrid of resources for improving our cities for children and families. The Australian Institute for Family Studies also has some resources covering child friendly communities. A theme that comes through strongly is that walkable neighbourhoods are a key measure of success for child-friendly cities.
The Queensland government has released a model code for neighbourhood design to encourage healthier and more active communities. Key to this is the creation of neighbourhoods that are comfortable for walking and cycling, with accessible and convenient parks and community spaces.