In Japan, children are designing the cities of the future
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In Japan, children are designing the cities of the future

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Japan is leading the way in the establishment of child-friendly cities with young people being given a say in the design of their urban environments.

UNICEF launched its Child Friendly City (CFC) initiative in 1996 as a way of implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) at local levels. Cities in which children are able to live happily and safely, express their opinions, influence decision making and participate in community and social life can apply for special international recognition.

In Japan, the cities of Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Sendai have been awarded special status for their initiatives and many local governments are following their example by increasing the participation of children in important urban planning decisions.

“The stream of children's participation has been significantly increasing,” said Dr Isami Kinoshita – an architecture professor at Chiba University and a leader of the CFC initiative in Japan – in an exclusive interview with CLAD. “After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, children's participation has been promoted in several municipalities where rebuilding is taking place, with consultation and support from global NGOs and UNICEF.”

In the city of Ishinomaki, Save the Children Japan coordinated the building of a new children’s centre partly-designed by children and funded by the Suntory whisky company, as part of a wider initiative called Children's Community Building Clubs.

Similar projects have been launched in the cities of Kawasaki and Chiba – including children's playgrounds, wall paintings, landscaped parks and billboard designs all designed by children.

In the town of Niseko, Hokkaido prefecture, citizens under the age of 20 are regularly invited to participate in town planning committees and a special children’s parliament has been established for young citizens to give their input and feedback on important design decisions.

“Local governmental officers and citizen activists are working together to overcome conservative groups who do not understand and sometimes oppose children’s participation and the CRC,” said Dr Kinoshita. “Progress is being made though, and our network is widening every year as we exchange information and discuss new ideas. This helps us recognise the importance of continuing this initiative with the next generation.”

In a statement, UNICEF said: “There is already a great deal happening, in many states and many cities, to create child friendly cities. Laws are challenging traditional ‘seen and not heard’ attitudes to children and placing duties on parents, teachers, care workers and others to listen and give due consideration to their views. Governments are holding special consultations with children and are in some cases seeking to build consultation into their everyday practice.

“This is the very essence of the process of building a Child Friendly City: informing and involving children and respecting their views and experiences; recognising children as partners and as individual human beings, rights-holders and equal, active citizens.”

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Japan is leading the way in the establishment of child-friendly cities with young people being given a say in the design of their urban environments.
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