CFP: Childfriendly Cities

4th International Conference on Geographies of Children, Young people  and Families.
San Diego. January 12-15, 2015

Paper Session Organizers: Lia Karsten and Willem van Vliet

Session theme: Childfriendly cities: critical approaches

Many of the papers within children’s geographies end with some kind of recommendation for the building of childfriendly cities. But what do we mean by childfriendly cities? In this workshop we want to explore different ways of conceptualizing children, cities, childfriendliness and their interrelationships.

Policies aimed at childfriendly cities presuppose that cities are not childfriendly: cities have to change in order to become child-friendly. This supposition reveals an anti-urban way of thinking. It juxtaposes the urban jungle vs. the rural idyll.These contrasting connotations are very much based on the relatively poor provision of outdoor play facilities in urban environments and their assumed abundance in rural environments. But today, enrichment activities have become more prominent in many children’s everyday life.  Will this emphasis on enrichment activities change the rural into the urban idyll?

Childfriendly approaches/policies/actions  and the conceptualization of children as the ‘same’ as and as ‘different’ from adults. In modernist planning, childfriendly interventions often imply creating child-specific facilities and spaces: designated  especially and ‘only’ for children. This approach views children as fundamentally different from adults. They are defined as vulnerable and in need of specific protection and provision.  Age-specific playgrounds are a good example of this. Another way of creating childfriendly cities is by building inclusive cities in which children’s needs are taken into account without isolating them in their own domains. Wide sidewalks, as advocated by Jane Jacobs, are a good  example.  This second approach views children as essentially similar to adults as citizens of the city.  The question thus arises: Which of these two approaches is better for creating child-friendly cities? This question, in turn, leads to an examination of different definitions of  childfriendliness.

Childfriendly cities and children’s own definitions. What do children themselves consider childfriendly? Do their definitions differ from those held by  adults?  Further, children are not a homogeneous group.  Do we find differences in children’s own definitions of child-friendliness across gender, age group, social class, racial and ethnic background, residential location?  And how can we best support children’s participation in city planning and urban development to promote child-friendly outcomes??

This paper session aims to critically explore different issues related to childfriendly cities.

We invite researchers to send title and abstract of a maximum of 250 words by August 15 to both Lia Karsten ( and Willem van Vliet (  ). We will reply before the 1st of September and intend to select papers for a special issue of the Journal: Children, Youth and Environments to be published in 2015-16.