In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children and Sustainable Cities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Books and Edited Collections
  • Journals
  • Global Agendas, Policy, and Governance
  • Participation in the Development of Sustainable Cities
  • Planning for Sustainable, Child-Friendly Cities
  • Living in a Sustainable Urban Environment (Mobility/Housing/Play)
  • Childhood, Urban Natures, and Sustainable Cities

Childhood Studies Children and Sustainable Cities
Sophie Hadfield-Hill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0218


The role, position, and participation of children in the context of sustainable cities have become increasingly recognized at the global, city, and community scales. Numerous interlinking factors have been critical in shaping this agenda. First, there is the mounting awareness that cities were not meeting the needs of the growing population, particularly in terms of providing healthy, safe, and inclusive environments for children to grow up in. Second, the recognition of the child in the United Nations rights framework (the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989) was a driving force in the consideration of children’s rights and their participation in the design and planning of their local neighborhoods. Third, the UNICEF and UN-Habitat Child-Friendly Cities Initiative was born in 1996. This ongoing program of work supports local governments in realizing child-friendly initiatives at the local level to make cities and neighborhoods good places for children and young people to grow up. Concurrently, the UNESCO Growing Up in Cities project was revived (from its original program in the 1970s); this advocated for inviting children and young people into the planning and design process, enabling cities to develop according to the needs of all. In the early 21st century, much of the academic and policy discussion about childhood and sustainable cities is framed in the context of the child-friendly cities, the shaping of city life which suits the needs of children and young people through active, participatory planning processes. The study of children and sustainable cities is dominated by discussions around what makes a city and a place child-friendly; thus this review includes this literature in Planning for Sustainable, Child-Friendly Cities. From a policy and governance perspective, literature which addresses the global agendas of sustainable cities in relation to children is also included (Global Agendas, Policy, and Governance). Much of the rhetoric of sustainable cities is in the context of participation, how people in diverse contexts can have a role to play in city development; this is addressed in the section on Participation in the Development of Sustainable Cities. A fourth aspect is children and young people’s everyday experiences of living in sustainable urban environments, new developments which have been designed to foster environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The section on Living in a Sustainable Urban Environment (Mobility/Housing/Play) addresses some of the key literature in this field. The final aspect relates to Childhood, Urban Natures, and Sustainable Cities; a key aspect of sustainable cities relates to the role of green infrastructures in making places and cities liveable. How children and young people interact with, perceive, and experience diverse natures in the city is a growing area of research. The topic of children and sustainable cities draws on research and theory across the social sciences (and indeed the engineering sciences), the majority of which advocates for children’s rights as active citizens in their communities. Over the decades, the rhetoric of sustainable cities and children’s place within them has come a long way, and this review is a starting point for understanding the theoretical, empirical, and policy developments in this field. However, there is still much work to do, academically and in practice, to ensure that children are growing up in safe, healthy, and inclusive cities and have an active role in shaping sustainable development in their streets, neighborhoods, and communities.

General Overviews

The following texts offer a general overview of the literatures in the field of childhood and sustainable cities. These texts are key pieces in charting the development of child-friendly cities, stimulated in part by the mounting challenges which faced cities across the world, to changes in policy direction, recognizing children’s rights in the development of their streets, neighborhoods, and cities. Karen Malone, one of the key coordinators of the UNESCO Growing Up in Cities program, has written widely on child-friendly, sustainable cities. Her guest editorial, Malone 2001, is a good starting point for learning about the impetus for, development of, and requirements for child-friendly, sustainable urban places. Bartlett, et al. 1999 is another of the often-cited books in the field; specifically aimed at local planners, it serves as a “how-to” guide in the realm of implementing child-friendly policies and procedures. The final two general overviews are provided by Louise Chawla; the first, an edited collection, draws on the international Growing Up in Cities research (Chawla 2002), and the second, an online interview with her, reflects on the successes, challenges, and legacies of the research she conducted in her capacity as a project coordinator and author on children’s experiences of cities (Derr 2016).

  • Bartlett, S., R. Hart, D. Satterthwaite, X. De La Barra, and A. Missair. Cities for Children: Children’s Rights, Poverty and Urban Management. London: Earthscan, 1999.

    A text specifically written for local authorities to assist in the inclusion of children and young people in the planning and design of cities. The authors offer a series of practical actions for implementing child-friendly policies and procedures. The book, which includes sections on housing, community health, schooling, and child care, uses a multifaceted approach to address sustainable cities from a childhood perspective.

  • Chawla, L., ed. Growing Up in an Urbanising World. London: Earthscan, 2002.

    This edited collection provides an overview of the widely cited Growing Up in Cities project conducted in eight countries during the late 1990s (an extension to the work done in the 1970s by Kevin Lynch). The book reviews the research conducted in Argentina, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India, Norway, the United States, and Poland. The aim of the project was to understand children’s relationship with their urban surroundings and offer recommendations for the participation of young people in community development.

  • Derr, V. Louise Chawla’s Thoughts on Children’s Participation—Then and Now. In Child in the City. 2016.

    This is an informative piece written as an interview with Louise Chawla, the coordinator of the UNESCO Growing Up in Cities program (1996–2006). The text addresses the motivations for the large-scale, international, collaborative project, including its key outcomes, challenges, and replicability. Chawla reflects on the forty years since the seminal work from Kevin Lynch, by which this and future projects were inspired.

  • Malone, K. “Children, Youth and Sustainable Cities.” Local Environment: The International Journal of and Justice and Sustainability 6.1 (2001): 5–12.

    DOI: 10.1080/13549830120024215

    As the Asia-Pacific Director of the UNESCO Growing Up in Cities project, Karen Malone has written widely on children and sustainable cities. In this guest editorial, Karen argues for city development that is sustainable to overcome the mounting challenges associated with pollution, population, and poverty. This piece succinctly summarizes the intersections between childhood, rights, and sustainable development.

  • Malone, K. “Child Friendly Cities: A Model of Planning for Sustainable Development.” In Designing Cities with Children and Young People: Beyond Playgrounds and Parks. Edited by K. Bishop and L. Corkery, 11–23. London: Routledge, 2017.

    This recent chapter written by Karen Malone addresses the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a framework of targets aimed at a global commitment toward a sustainable future. The chapter provides a neat review of the child-friendly cities initiative and the Growing Up in Cities project in the context of the new challenges and opportunities associated with the implementation of the global development goals.

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