Urban Studies & Planning Programme,
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
Universiti Malaya, KL
Kuala Lumpur is a young city. According to Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020, 27% of its population was children below the age of 15. However, Kuala Lumpur children have little voice in public decision-making. While the KL Structure Plan boasted to be recognized as a world-class city by 2020 by projecting metropolitan image with its \u201cmega\u201d structures, however, its development growing without consciousness to the needs of the most important but marginalized group in our society - the children. Despite growing up in a \u201ccity of fame\u201d, they breathe the worst quality of air, travel the most congested streets and suffer from a lack of space to play. Kuala Lumpur can only be an exemplary and sustainable world city if it is also a children-friendly city, in which the rights of its children are both recognized and ensured. This can only happen if the interests of children and young people are incorporated into how our neighbourhoods\u2019 future are planned in transport, housing and in environmental improvements.
London City Hall for example, endorsed children\u2019s needs in city design by taking the initiative to come out with strategies and guidelines on creating a \u201cchild-friendly London\u201d. Similarly in San Francisco, some sort of recognition on the need to incorporate children in city design have been made by introducing infrastructure that is specially catered to the need of our so-called future leaders. US, through its Kids Friendly Cities Report Card came out with indicators that illustrates the well-being of the children in the country (Cline, 2004).
However, what does it exactly mean by Children-Friendly City? According to UNICEF under its Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI), a children-friendly city is a city that puts \u201cChildren First\u201d. It is a city where the voices, needs, priorities and rights of the children are integrated in public policies, programmes and decisions. In a children-friendly city, children should be able to express their opinions on the kind of city that they want and influence decisions about their city.
According to Trante and Malone (2003), despite the diversity of the places where they live, children value similar qualities in their urban environments. The list of qualities for good urban environment include provision for basic needs, social integration, safety and free movement, peer gathering places and safe green spaces (Malone, 2001; Chawla, 2002). Quality places for children are also places where they feel protected from criminal threats, pollution and traffic danger. They should be places where children are free to walk freely on their own, meet friends and play in a secure and unpolluted environment. They should be allowed to grow up in a vibrant and stimulative environment that helps to satisfy their inquisitive minds and insatiable desire to explore their surroundings. In a children-friendly city, every child is treated as an equal citizen of which he has access to every service.
Children-friendly city should be able to make children feel welcome and valued as part of the society. This is to promote social integration and to avoid children from feeling alienated and marginalised (Malone and Hasluck, 2002).
So, why the need to focus on children? The need to focus on children is simply because, no matter how often we say it, it needs repeating : our children ARE the future. They are the next leaders and policy-makers in the next millenium. The dynamism and prosperity of our city is depending on them.
In a children-friendly city, children and youth are viewed not as part of the problems, but as part of the solutions. UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) declared that the well-being of children is the ultimate indicator of a healthy habitat, a democratic society, good governance and sustainable development (UNICEF, 1997). If the goals of sustainability are not achieved, then it will not only affect children, but also other members of the wider community.
A children-friendly city cannot be created overnight. The starting point in creating a conducive environment for our young children is from the neighbourhood design \u2013 the immediate surroundings of our homes. Urban neighbourhoods should ideally provide a secure, welcoming transition to the larger world; they should be places where children can play safely, run errands, walk to school, socialize with friends, watch and learn from the activities of others, and begin to accept and enjoy differences that exist in our multi- cultural society.
It has been widely acknowledged that physical and social characteristics of the environment play vital roles in influencing children\u2019s development. Neighbourhoods are considered as parts of a child\u2019s microsystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The microsystem for very young children started with his immediate family and becoming more complex as they mature and exposed to the world outside their homes. As such, neighbourhoods become important development contexts for children\u2019s early socialization and adaptation to the community system.
A children-friendly neighbourhood is also a healthy neighbourhood. Ho (1997) indicated that a healthy housing should be able to promote a sense of well-being, a sense of security and a sense of place in community. By promoting sense of well-being, it will contribute to the betterment of physical health of the community. In relation to children\u2019s well-being, physical health could be promoted by allowing them to engage in active play. Sense of security could be achieved by eliminating fear factors such as fear of victimization and fear of getting injured. In a healthy neighbourhood, children should be able to explore their neighbourhoods to enjoy what they have to offer. Parents in healthy neighbourhoods should be able to let their children play outside their homes without any worry. This will definitely promote to a sound mental health. Sense of place in community denotes that no one in the community \u2013 not even a small child \u2013 feel deprived from enjoying every service in the neighbourhood.
In order to create a perfect place for our children to live and thrive, we must first learn what are children\u2019s needs and rights and examine on how neighbourhood planners could offer practical measures that help to create a better environment for our children. The focus of the paper will concentrate on how our neighbourhoods should satisfy the three most important needs of children: the need to play, the need to independent mobility and the need to feel protected from criminal threats. By satisfying these 3 important needs, it will lead to the promotion of their sense of well-being, sense of security and sense of place in community \u2013 vital elements in a healthy human habitat.
It is a well-known fact that free-playing outdoor have great benefits for children\u2019s physical and mental growth. The inclusion of \u201cspaces for children to play\u201d begins at planning level. According to planning policies, developers are required to surrender 10% of total development area for open spaces and recreation (including playground). The JPBD planning standards and guidelines also specify that the location of the playground must not be more than 0.5 hectares from users and the recommended size of the site should be 0.2 \u2013 0.6 hectares, depending on the size of the population it serves. This very general guideline however, did not help in securing an appropriate location for our children to play. It is common to find a playground situated by a busy road exposing children to road accidents. Even the design and maintenance of the playground, which supposedly specially designated for our children, neglect some basic safety aspects. There are too many hazards could be found at the playground such the use of open drain, drops in levels or uneven ground that hinder children to run around freely and safely. It
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