Children shape and are shaped by their micro and macro environments. Homes, neighborhoods, and institutions affect children’s health and wellbeing and structure their play and behavior. In turn, children through their everyday actions often contest, negotiate and modify their surroundings. This selection of readings introduces the reader to some of the physical, socio-cultural, and political contexts of children living in urban environments across the world. Urban planner Louise Chawla’s Growing Up in an Urbanizing World (2001) is an excellent collection of research studies from both majority and minority world countries that portray children’s experiences of their neighborhood. Its accompanying volume Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth (Driskell, 2002) introduces the reader to various methods and guidelines that can be used to engage children in participatory research.
Parks and playgrounds afford free play, exercise and gross motor development, meeting and socializing with peers (Day and Wager, 2010). Seminal studies from Jacobs (1961) and Moore (1986) show that streets, sidewalks and spaces wedged in between the home and the street can also be ideal spaces for children’s play and socialization, and their inclusion in community life. However, due to increasing vehicular traffic, neighborhood crime, and parents’ fears of “stranger danger,” streets and sidewalks are increasingly less accessible to children (Blakely, 1994; Hart, 1994), and this contributes greatly towards children feeling alienated from their communities (Chawla, 2001). For more inclusive cities, it is necessary for children to have an active voice in the design, planning, and governance of urban environments (Bartlett, 2005).
As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, in both rich and poor countries urban poverty can have long lasting debilitating effects on children’s growth and development (Evans, 2006; Bartlett, 2002). Gender sensitive planning and development strategies that address housing, property rights, common infrastructure, and childcare services in urban poor settlements can greatly improve the lives of women and children. In addition, paying special attention to the needs of adolescent girls can break the cyclical nature of gender based discrimination and social injustices (Skelton, 2000; Singh, 2010). This collection brings together this exciting work on children’s experience of various types of spaces and places in urban environments.