Come and learn about „Socialise“ Making space initiate lead by the Suzanne Orr, MLA, in Canberra, Australia. Our Founder and Director Gregor H. Mews will join the panel debate on the 18th April 2018 around 5.15 pm, held at the Legislative Assembly in Canberra. This is a free event and you are invited to attend.
First #UrbanThinkers campus for Asia Pacific was held in Canberra, Australia, on the 8th March 2017. More than 100 stakeholders engaged in discussing actions and solutions to transform our cities into healthy and playful environments for all.
Check out our short video from the event “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z” and watch this space for more information in the near future including the outcome report.
The organiser team from University of Canberra, Health Research Institute, and Urban Synergies Group would like to thank all those people that expressed interest and participated in the forum.
We would like to highlight the meaningful contribution of the ACT Government, being the key sponsor of the International Forum, as well as the Minister Fitzharris and Dr. Paul Kelly, Chief Health Officer. Our keynote presenter from Yale University Dr. Tong Liu shared insights into the social and emotional development of children. Prof. Tom Cochrane highlighted the pressing evidence relating to the state of health and physical inactivity of children in the ACT. The issues presentation included contributions on children and the built environment by Gregor H. Mews, Designs around the state of Children’s health by A/Prof. Lisa Scharoun, as well as on the importance of play presented by Dr. Tong Liu and A/Prof. Paul Tranter.
Our gratitude goes to our Master of Ceremony, Dr. Anthony Burton and all table coordinators that helped to capture the essence of the event and the In-kind support partners, including the ACT Government, ACT Council of Parents & Citizens Association, Australian Primary Principle Association, ACT Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie- Griffith- Cook, the ACT Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment with Dr. Kate Auty and Edwina Robinson, the Cross Culture Design Lab, Heart Foundation ACT with Annie Kentwell, Living Streets, Planning Institute of Australia ACT, SEE- Change and University of Canberra, Prof. Rachel Davey.
Watch this space for the outcome report and speakers presentations !
- Child friendly cities guided walk event on 18th March 2017
- Come to our next Urban Talks event in Canberra, Australia, 21st March 2017 on “Implementing the new urban agenda through accelerated actions on active travel” with a great range of speakers including the Dutch cycling ambassador.
How can we implement the New Urban Agenda?
What are your top three action items?
How can we at USG work with you to enable better health and wellbeing outcomes?
Regulatory government bodies should push large developments to be thinking about public realm upgrades and corresponding long-term cultural programs, to provide ways to enable social connection and so stimulate a sense of community. Bring back the ritual of having parties in the community, places where people can celebrate and meet. The participants stressed that an improved public realm is very important for sustainable communities.
Reinvestigate different sustainable urban forms in order to provide a greater housing choice and to allow affordability with the interface dynamics of the region in mind.
Improve strategic planning and investment in productivity in peri-urban areas under the assumption that some people do want to live in those areas.
Another area for collective action was identified in relation to productive use of space in the city: the role of autonomous vehicles and future transport corridors function.
Cities need to be committed to deliver better overall sustainability outcomes. There must be an open debate and actions around optimal instead of maximum productivity.
Questions such as ‘How many resources are different population groups willing to consume and give up?’ ‘How do we want to live in this new urban world?’ and ‘What are the choices we need to make in order to ensure health and wellbeing for all?’ must be resolved.
Research and existing findings on people’s lifestyle choices in relation to sustainability must be effectively translated and communicated ensuring that people can make better informed choices. Grassroots groups, civil societies, social entrepreneurships and governments need to collaborate more effectively.
Urban Synergies Group was acknowledged as a key partner that provides a platform for these discussions and exploration of collaboration. This article was also published by our partner the World Urban Campaign late 2016 and can be accessed by clicking here.
The Urban Synergies Group team is looking forward to see you there. The event will also be recorded and can be viewed later in the editorial section on this website.
Please RSVP until the 20th March, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Play is the way children
make sense of the world
in which they live!”
This is an interview with Gregor H. Mews, Founding Director of Urban Synergies Group, on insights around the need for a Forum on healthy child development and their environments in Australia.
1. Why are you organising a forum, and what do you anticipate to achieve with it?
We at Urban Synergies Group, together with our partner the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra, found sufficient evidence that indicates the health conditions of children in Australia are concerning.
The international forum “Shaping Spaces for Gen Z“ is part of our collaborative commitment to shed light on an important societal issue, that cannot continue to be ignored. Our message is clear and simple- we need to do better. If we want to ensure that future generations can enjoy equal opportunities, prosper and develop to their full potential, we need to explore new approaches to decision making around such ‘societal’ challenges. Collective actions need collective discussions and a fair, informed process for key decision making.
With this forum, we want to create a platform where we can come together with all relevant stakeholders and passionate members of the community, including concerned parents to do something about this societal challenge.
We will attempt to answer two questions. Firstly, how can we provide more daily opportunity for children to develop the social and emotional skills, psychological resilience and physical attributes to enable them to succeed in life as independent individuals? Secondly, how best do we align our collective resources to reconfigure our environments and the opportunities available to children within them in a fair, effective, efficient and cost-effective manner?
2. Why do you focus on child play, and what kind of relation does it have to obesity?
From our own data gathered since 2000, 69% of primary school children in the ACT are of low general fitness and 1 in 4 are classified as over a healthy weight. Children’s gross motor skills are another area of serious concern. We observed children that are unable to walk properly backwards, because they never had the opportunity to explore and engage in risky experiences on their terms. In our society the perception of risk has shifted. The ACT Government is aware of this and is committed to address this issue. Many Non-government organisations are doing their very best to reverse this health crisis.
Play offers a very potent narrative for children to engage in a meaningful way with the natural world around them, if we allow them to have enough space and time. Indeed, evidence suggests who children that engage regularly in outdoor play have higher levels of physical activity. Children are not even aware that they are getting healthier, because it is simply fun. Playful experiences offer mental health benefits and improve their capacity to be creative as well as learn important social skills. We are thrilled to have our colleagues from Yale University join us on the day, sharing their latest research findings.
However, despite of all the evidence, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child clearly states in article 31, that children have a right to play. In theory, this alone should be enough reason for adults to make sure their children have enough time and space for playful experiences in our cities. The health data helps to strengthen the case for play.
3. Is there a big cost associated with transitioning environments to allow for adequate physical exercise, what is this compared to the greater cost of childhood obesity?
True, there is a high cost associated with childhood obesity, which puts pressure onto the healthcare budgets, not just in Australia but worldwide. Combining these costs with physical inactivity as an independent risk factor is even more compelling. Infrastructure interventions in the built environment cost money and can have a lasting impact over their lifespan. This can be more or less helpful to achieve better health outcomes. Spent in an effective way, a piece of health supporting infrastructure, for example a safe and inclusive bike lane or footpath connecting attractive destinations, can become an effective measure in preventing diseases. However, the questions we should be asking ourselves are; how much do you value your own life? Can you put a price tag on it? Perhaps you want to be loved, spend as much time as possible with people you care about, grow up in comfortable home and have access to clean and safe environments. All of these contribute to your overall health and well-being. So I’d like to ask you why do you choose to spend these days so little time among your loved ones, feel like you need to spend more money on a bigger house, and pollute the environment contributing to an ecological footprint that is now five times higher than this earth’s carrying capacity? The price tag is our children’s overall well-being and we all are starting to pay for it. They are becoming fatter as well as sicker and sadder. Playful spaces near you can be part of the solution. Share your thoughts with us, be part of the debate and help us shape spaces for future generations on Wednesday 8th March.
Useful information about Shaping Spaces for Gen Z
The debate about Capital Metro in Canberra, Australia, has focused on net impact (with analysis suggesting 60% of benefits consist of wider or indirect economic benefits). But who gains and who loses potentially?
Light rail done well in Potsdam, Germany (Source: Gregor H. Mews)
Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Canberra Health Research Institute undertook a literature survey of studies of existing light rail projects globally, identifying potential wider co-benefits (economic, social and health related) of such projects. Assuming, as the literature suggests, that value uplift (increase in land value) directly attributable to light rail is marginal because so many other factors affect land value, but value capture (the capacity for attracting development finance) is strong, we offer:
(a) The likely biggest winners, from largest to smallest:
- The ACT government. Government-owned land value, and the number of dwellings along the corridor, will increase, driving up government revenues. (Netting out coverage of project costs). Of course ultimately these revenues will be spent across the ACT community but the benefits to individuals, dispersed across 300 000+ taxpayers, are difficult to extrapolate right now.
- Property developers. The property industry will enjoy the value capture benefits of the project by leveraging the public investment in light rail, especially with an improved ability to attract finance at lowered cost.
- Property investors. Property investors along the corridor will gain from higher property values in response to increased demand for apartment accommodation in the city. ABS data show that new unit development in the ACT had a 32 per cent increase in new projects between 2014 and 2015, highest of all construction classes.
- Gungahlin ‘edge’ residents. Research shows that single corridor rail projects such as the Capital Metro will actually benefit residents living on the outer edge of Gungahlin (and rural residential areas over the border), especially if the park and ride facility at the Gungahlin town centre terminus is free. A recent Australian Automobile Association study showed that in Canberra, the total cost of car ownership is just under $300 per week, the cheapest for capital cities. So Gungahlin edge commuters who currently travel the furthest to the city by car can benefit from travelling by car to the Gungahlin terminus, catching the light rail into town, then traveling to the terminus on uncongested roads and speeding along the tram route to their work. Over-the-border residents have light rail access without paying rates.
- Auto commuters along the route. Commuters who choose to continue to travel to work by car along the tram route will also gain a marginal net benefit from reduced congestion.
(b) The likely losers, from smallest to largest:
- Some ACT residents (excluding Gungahlin) living more than 1 kilometre from the tram. Those unable or unwilling to walk or cycle to a tram stop will contribute to the project through taxes but not benefit from either value uplift or enjoy tram travel time savings. (As the network expands beyond its first phase more residents will benefit).
- Already active travellers who currently live along the corridor (especially renters). The rate of active travel is highest in the inner north of Canberra. Many residents choose to live in these suburbs to be able to enjoy close proximity to employment and services. Light rail provides no additional benefit to them but does lead to higher housing costs.
- Some small and medium enterprises along the corridor. Research shows that one of the biggest economic effects of light rail is changing the mix of commercial activity along the corridor. Some firms will gain but the others will lose since some retail outlets and services may be forced to close or move out of the area.
- Rail users with complex travel tours. A travel tour refers to the number and diversity of activities that a user undertakes during a daily commute. The simplest tour is a return trip from home to work. More complex tours are undertaken by families with young children. The single corridor design of Capital Metro will not be able to cater for all the activities undertaken by families needing to visit many destinations during a typical working day. These groups will likely have to continue to own cars until most activities (e.g. afterschool activities) are relocated closer to the rail route – unlikely to happen any time soon.
Existing private renters, especially lower and fixed income. Research shows that economic activity along light rail corridors is largely captured by the gentrification of adjacent land up to 1 kilometre from tram stops. This is often facilitated by government policies to do with zoning and incentivising development. While governments can put in place programs to support those on public housing, residents in the rental market are often forced out through higher rates and therefore are the biggest losers.
About the authors
Dr. Andrew MacKenzie is an Devotee of Urban Synergies Group as well as a Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra and Dr. Cameron Gordon is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Health Research Institute at the University of Canberra and both were principal investigators on the study above. Both can be contacted through info (at) urbansynergiesgroup.org .
Sustainability, health and wellbeing are fundamentally intertwined. This article argues that this interdependence should be recognised and explicitly included into sustainability theory. Philosophical observations and system critic thinkers such as Henri Lefebvre and Martin Heidegger provide an opportunity to revisit our contemporary approach and practice regarding sustainable healthy lifestyles in an everyday context.
Lefebvre’s “everyday” concept, as Hegel cites it, refers to the real life in the here and now. Sustenance, clothing, furniture, homes, neighbourhoods and the environment as objects providing meaning to subjects in the context of every day life. He critiques the capability of people to generate consciousness as part of ordinary, trivial, banal and repetitive characteristics of life in contemporary capitalism. This highlights one of the greatest dilemma of societies achieving significant outcomes on the ground that can prevent climate change beyond the 2 Degree Celsius mark.
None of that is really new. The Brundtland Commission acknowledged in the 1987 with the Report “Our Common Future” a fertile ground. Harlem Bundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, herself had a strong background in Public Health. Slowly 29 years later, under the umbrella of the New Urban Agenda by United Nation (UN Habitat) we have been given another chance to embrace collective actions towards a common goal that concerns all of us.
One of the most powerful tools is social media and Apps. It provides a vehicle to understand people’s individual choices as part of their daily lives. When analysing user behaviour we can gain valuable insights into peoples lives and draw conclusions on collective consequences of their daily actions. One of the best examples are Geographical Information Systems (GIS) based traffic Apps that help you to avoid traffic jams. However, it is not just a tool to communicate in a one- way stream but a tool to convey and engage in a dialog on matters that directly relate to peoples every day lives.
Georg Lukács and Martin Heidegger described it with the term “Alltäglichkeit, meaning “authentic existence of being”. This opens a window of opportunity to grasp peoples lost direction in an inauthentic existence and provide them with solutions that not just benefit their daily lives but help to prevent climate change.
What can be understood as “authentic existence”? Especially for people in western oriented nations it can be seen as an invitation to engage in the adventure of every day life. Giving a new meaning to space and time through playful interaction with our immediate environment, that we collectively experience and share. Authentic existence can be easiest experienced through being in touch with our senses. Playful interaction with objects can transform the perception of time. People dedicate themselves to playful activities and enjoy it, we tend to share collectively this experience in a group environment. We are able give this space a new meaning. The space becomes a place. The flow theory of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi provides a fertile basis for this claim. One engages with one’s sense and makes meaning of an object in a state of concentration that ultimately impacts the environment around oneself. While engaging in the flow through play, one forgets time and enjoys it purely based on intrinsic rewards. One truly discovers meaning and the joy of being as well as living in the moment.
The evaluation of my international workshops found this to be a very effective technique to realise participants state of “authentic existence”. Active reflection under professional guidance allows participants to increase their level of consciousness and to become creative innovators as part of their professional work in the field of administration, landscape architecture, planning or urban design. However, it did even more. Many of them rediscovered the playful side in themselves helping them to realise the value of trust, space and time.
How does that relate to sustainable development as part of peoples individual actions? For example, through rediscovery of “authentic existence” as part of the state of being, spaces become places and places can increase in value with time. Instead of using the car, one can choose to walk or cycle more often, engaging with the environment in a natural speed. By rediscovering biophilic life around them their physical and mental health improves. Some of the collective benefits are self evident, reduced noise and air pollution, less accidents generate savings in the health system, decongest urban environments, reduces carbon emissions and benefits to the social capital. All these benefits have a direct impact on our development as the human race, but the traditional approach with the triple bottom line does not stack up.
What does this new sustainable development model that recognises health and well-being look like?
The model is fundamentally based on our collective bio-history and recognises the limits of earths carrying capacity. The health- and well-being is based on the environmental dimension providing the base for our collective social existence. The collective wealth we create as part of the social dimension generates and builds the economical wealth. This wealth has to be managed with care and consciously fed back through the social dimension, and benefit ultimately the environment. By adding the arrows explicitly into the sustainability paradigm, the message of ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option (see graphic below).
How do we get there?
- It is important to recognise to revisit the existing ‘business as usual’ paradigm executed by many western oriented governments.
- Raise the collective consciousness, based on the playful experiences with the environment, which most governments can initiate through workshops with professionals and with the community.
- Include health and well-being into the sustainability paradigm, introduce and underpin them with “play space” workshops and actions from top- down and bottom- up.
- Utilise modern media beyond one-way communication stream or in a reactive manner. Let people be playful. Trust them and empower them to share positive experiences through their videos, infographics and stories on how to transform their “every day life” in a healthy sustainable manner. Be inspired by the New York based Amplify Project as a successful case study (http://www.amplifyingcreativecommunities.org).
What can you do after reading this article?
Reflect upon the philosophical discourse. Embrace this model, go out an engage playfully with your “every day life” environment. Take pictures, make a fun video or share your story of your “every day” adventure evolving your sustainable lifestyle and love for places. Share your experience in your social media network. Perhaps call your government and advocate for change. Help them to respond to the New Urban Agenda and rediscover a new consciousness in our everyday lives that breaks the circle of unconscious consumption in an interdependent world.
This article is cc by Gregor H. Mews, Urban Synergies Group.
True freedom in this world begins with the opportunity to play. Play is both an essential and basic element of any child’s development. It is important to ensure that children enjoy life and have the chance to grow-up as physically and mentally healthy individuals because they need to be able to subsequently participate appropriately in their own culture and society as well-balanced adults. And yet, all too many children are not given the opportunity to play in the fashion they would themselves prefer. There is insufficient awareness with regards to value of giving children the freedom to undertake autonomous play. Many adults see ‘play’ as merely a trivial aspect in the lives of their children or even as an unnecessary distraction from more ‘important’ activities. Parents consider play to be something that can be safely ignored – unlike the structured educational processes that their children are subjected to in school. However, studies have shown that play actually improves the learning performance of children over the long term and also enhances their social skills so that they tend to be more successful in their later professional careers. The International Play Association (IPA) subscribe to this view and believe that every child has the fundamental and universal right to play. It is their view that children should in future be allowed to determine freely how they want to play. The 2014 IPA Conference provided the ideal platform for participants to exchange ideas on innovative approaches to dealing with this aspect, to learn from each other and develop new strategies.
It was 25 years ago that the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 of the Convention specifically outlines children’s rights to relax, play and be involved in cultural activities and this was the focus of the discussions at the IPA Conference. The basis was the summary of General Comment No. 17 on Article 31 published by the IPA in September 2013. The delegates saw this as a welcome opportunity to emphasize the rights of children to rest, leisure, play, participate in recreational activities and in the cultural and artistic life. The IPA places particular stress on the ‘right to play’ and first issued an official declaration on this subject in November 1977. Anyone involved in children’s play activities – be it manufacturers, designers, educators, public authorities and parents – needs to read and take to heart this declaration. “Children’s play is any behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves; it takes place whenever and wherever opportunities arise. Caregivers may contribute to the creation of environments in which play takes place, but play itself is non-compulsory, driven by intrinsic motivation and undertaken for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end. Play involves the exercise of autonomy, physical, mental or emotional activity, and has the potential to take infinite forms, either in groups or alone. These forms will change and be adapted throughout the course of childhood. The key characteristics of play are fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity. Together, these factors contribute to the enjoyment it produces and the consequent incentive to continue to play.“ This declaration is derived from more than 20 years of international collective experience and is based on the results of studies that have demonstrated the serious and lifelong effects that a lack of opportunity and space to play can have on the physical and psychological wellbeing of children. It was apparent from the IPA Conference that there are different ways in which the value of play is perceived throughout the world. The delegates from some countries claimed that play was an essential and fundamental need while others saw it as subordinate to structured education, as a diversion from preparing children to participate in the labour market.
The science of play
Play is an autonomous activity that is full of pleasure and delight. Because there is too little conscious enjoyment in our contemporary world, this automatically results in more of the same. Therefore it is not surprising that many people now find it difficult to come to terms with our environment and surroundings. Play promotes health and well-being. It is not only fun, but also enables children to develop a long term positive outlook more easily and this is something that children are frequently denied. There are lasting negative effects not only for children, but also for communities and whole societies if there are insufficient opportunities for play and physical exercise. Children who are unable to play fail to develop important capabilities, physical, social and psychological skills and could thus be said to have a form of disability. Children who are not permitted to play become more readily aggressive and unstable; they are no longer able to integrate themselves socially. While it is true that insufficient long term studies of the effects of play deficit have been conducted, the initial results that have been reported to date are very concerning. Children confined in enclosed spaces who do not play can exhibit various negative traits such as aggression, emotional suppression, lack of social skills, physical inactivity and are at increased risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes. The brains of children who are unable to play may also fail to develop normally. Persistent sensory deprivation in the form of insufficient contact with others and the lack of other sensory types of interaction can result in depression and even cerebral dysfunction in extreme cases. Play stimulates the body’s nervous system, which reacts by creating neural networks that promote brain development and flexibility. In other words, play actually helps inculcate in children a system that boosts their learning capacity. But it is not only the children that we need to consider. Adults who deny children the freedom to play often tend themselves to have unhealthy lifestyles, do not take enough exercise and suffer from obesity or cardiovascular diseases. Experts now fear that current changes and trends will produce negative repercussions with regard to future societies and the environment although this fallout may first become apparent several generations later. These predictions are based on the results of a study in which epigenetic material was investigated. The study demonstrated that if effects might skip an entire generation, an ‘echo’ is created that could become manifest in the following generation. Play is a process through which simple movements aid the growth of efficient and effective muscles and that improves the physical and psychological status. Children become more flexible, agile, coordinated and well-balanced. Play is not just enjoyable, but helps children learn to deal with primary emotions such as anger, fear, rage, shock, sadness and happiness and to translate these into more nuanced sentiments like sorrow, pleasure, affection, gratification, frustration and disappointment.
What can we do?
Free Play represents the solution to many of the problems we encounter in urban environments. All cities need enchanting refuges, places where the imagination can be set free – gateways to another world where it is possible to forget the drudgery of the daily routine. Cities are increasingly growing into an assemblage of dead, sterile, boring and undifferentiated spaces that offer no outlet for fantasy, humor and human interaction. People need distraction. Attempts to provide this to date have been only been provided by commercially-orientated organisations and the concepts have been temporary and have not been made available to all. Urban environments must furnish appealing spaces for everyone on every day. Spaces in which we can celebrate the community, historic associations, love of nature and anthropocentric chemistry. Children in Germany must be permitted more frequent and increased access to better, autonomous, free play. The creative activities of children should be encouraged to take place in interconnected spaces and not just in localised islands. The design of creative spaces may start at the level of small details but must take a holistic approach. Freedom of creativity can be a dangerous factor in play as in life because it is not always possible to predict the consequences. For this reason, a responsible attitude to the surroundings and environment must always be adopted, although, at the same time, the right of children to play must be defended, protected and sponsored. There are two simple precepts that we all need to follow if we wish to give our children and youngsters more time, freedom and space to play:
● We can and should advocate the view that play is both a universal and natural necessity that has a positive effect on children and young people. The right to play can bring people together across borders, generate tolerance and help impart cultural values.
● We can all seek to share our experience, to disseminate new ideas, inform ourselves while retaining a critical stance and provide valuable input in research, politics and our own fields of activity.
Children will play almost anywhere but to provide the ideal conditions for this, the following requirements need to be met:
● The surroundings must be full of natural and creative elements that promote autonomous play.
● There must be equipment that provides for physical challenges to enable children to develop the ability to assess risk.
● The environments should be such that children can freely express their emotions and experience sensory stimulation.
● There must be opportunities for social interaction.
● There should be a variety of different environments in both urban and rural situations that are safely interlinked and that provide an extensive proportion of free space that invites children to indulge in play.
If we really want to achieve this, we need proactive solutions such as the idependent “Werkstatt für Spiel” initiative. In the form of interactive workshops, we will be offering participants the opportunity to explore in depth the topic of “Play and human right” and the associated requirements for space for free play . With our distinguished patrons we are looking forward to an exciting and informative event from 13.- 16. June at a heritage Watermill estate in the State of Brandenburg, Germany. For more information, please ask us. Friedrich Schiller once said that “there is often deeper meaning in the play of children”. Once we have all recognised this to be the case, we can make the world a more free, healthy and compassionate place.