Urban Talk event: Seeing the city we need

Seeing the city we need-  with urbanist writer Charles R. (Chuck) Wolfe on the 9th October 2017 6pm at Legislative Assembly in Canberra, Australia. As a long time urban writer, photographer, affiliate associate professor and land-use attorney based in Seattle, Chuck will share insights and expertise as a dynamic speaker who leads explorations of urban spaces impacted by rapid change and growth. Join us to hear valuable insights from Chuck about his latest book Seeing the Better City followed by a panel discussion with local and international experts and thought leaders. Let’s discuss pathways to accelerated actions for a better urban future through looking at our cities and becoming better observers of urban issues.

See our Urban Talks Event Poster

Register for the event here!

 

 

urban thinkers campus report – shaping spaces for gen z

Urban living in the early part of the 21st century has not been good for children. The present generation are the least fit and the fattest that they have ever been. Social marginalisation, mental health problems and serious cardio-metabolic disorders have been on the rise in adolescence and early adulthood. On a more positive note, there is good international research evidence that many of these unwelcome facets of modern lifestyles for children could be eradicated through relatively small adjustments of the opportunities available to children, such as those that might be gained through active play and active travel to or from school.

These issues were the focus of discussion at the “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus that was organised by the Urban Synergies Group and the Health Research Institute, University of Canberra on 8th March 2017. Hosted at the University of Canberra, Australia, the Campus focused on environments that foster healthy childhood development in the broadest sense of this term i.e. including mental and physical capacities, social and psychological development and connectedness to community. Child health, physical inactivity, environmental design, child empowerment and the right to play and interact were central themes.

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?

One hundred and twenty delegates attended. There was good representation from the key stakeholder groups: Parents, General Public, Government, Non-Government Organisations, Health, Academia and Community Services. Education other than tertiary, Commercial organisations and Sports organisations were not well represented.

The “Shaping Spaces for Gen-Z” Urban Thinkers Campus, Canberra, Australia on 8th March 2017 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 goal

The outcomes of the Urban Thinkers campus will be presented at a side event at the 26th UN-Habitat Governing Council Meeting in Nairobi on the 8th May 2017 between 1 and 1.45 pm in Conference room 11. Should you not be able to make it, don’t worry as the final report is now available. To access the core findings and co-designed solutions that can enable actions  for better health outcomes for children and young people in urban systems access can be download here.

Summary for download

Full Urban Thinkers Campus Report for download

World Urban Campaign Online Report

Urban Talks- Reflections on the New Urban Agenda in Canberra, Australia

urban talks.jpg

You can also RSVP through our facebook page with link below.
https://www.facebook.com/events/1115115388585437/

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.

Play together- being human

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 that31-logo-redrawn 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.

Political background

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.

Unbelievable fact about modern lifestyles

USG Inforgraphic 2

Green Economy Leaders Report

The independent Green Economy Leaders Report for Stockholm, recently released by Phillip Rode from LSE cities program might be interesting to inform and cross reference our progress in Canberra. See http://files.lsecities.net/files/2013/06/LSE-2013-Stockholm-Final-Report-webhighres.pdf

I found the following key finding particularly interesting in the chapter and policy response on market failure:

Built form and sustainable transport integration: ‘Stockholm could consider further ‘push’ policies to reduce car ownership and car use by introducing car-free developments and additional restrictive measures. Related ‘pull’ policies could include the promotion of bus travel (Bus Rapid Transit, bus lanes and bus corridors), further multi-modal integration, and a comprehensive cycle strategy. Finally, significant potential exists for the redistribution of public street space from private car use to public transport and walking with a focus on shifting travel patterns from private motorised to public or non-motorised travel.’

Cost/benefit analysis: Narrow cost benefit analyses on the impact of green policies on economic growth often fail to provide the whole economic picture; both the socio-economic costs of negative externalities (eg from climate change and local pollution) and the wider benefits that green cities can foster (eg attracting young entrepreneurs and skilled professionals through a green, high tech urban environment) are generally underestimated or entirely ignored. Indirect costs of green policies on the wider economy are also challenging to measure quantitatively.

Public private partnership: ‘In many cases, an efficient mechanism for public investment in green growth is through public private partnerships, with public funds leveraging investment from the private sector. Partnerships are not only effective means of raising capital, but also vehicles for knowledge sharing and collaboration innovation for solving technological challenges that no one firm, research institute or government department can solve alone. Examples include public private waste policy programmes in Durban, eco-district innovations in Portland, Oregon and the city governments of London and Berlin bringing together the large range of actors needed to make electric mobility succeed economically and environmentally.’

Recently published in Australian Urban Design Forum – More under the following link:

http://udf.org.au/udf-quarterly/udfq-102-june-2013/article/green-economy-leaders-report/