A pony race track, slides instead of doors, and a mobile lookout tower, rolling through town on sturdy wheels. When you give kids a chance to shape the city of the future, the results are colorful and creative. A great opportunity for urban planners.

What will the future mega-metropolises look like? How will we want to live? And how can we make sure everyone feels comfortable in this vision? Modern city planners are aware of the need to survey and involve future residents. The magic word: participation.

Children planning cities: two boys drawing London with colorful chalks
How colorful is tomorrow’s city?
Photo: iStock/romrodinka

Today’s kids and teenagers have their very own plans for the city. Especially when it comes to public space and the design of schools, parks, and playgrounds.

Over the past decade or so, involving children in urban planning processes has become the norm. More and more local and international organizations offer kids the opportunity to take an active part in shaping their environment.

Redrawing tomorrow’s city, block by block

One of these projects is “Block by Block,” a program initiated by the UN in 2012 together with Microsoft and the developers of the immensely popular computer game Minecraft. The latter allows players to build entire virtual worlds. Colorful, digital blocks can be stacked up to create cities, landscapes, or fantastic structures – all it takes is a few taps and clicks.

Whether future Paris, a greener New York City, or a new neighborhood playground – more than 50 million monthly players around the world are already tinkering with digital versions of their own ideal world.

“In a way, Minecraft is an architecture tool for young people. It allows them to show urban planners and decision makers how they envisage the future of cities,” stated Block by Block coordinator Pontus Westerberg at the 2016 mySociety conference. Westerberg and his colleagues have already staged workshops in 35 countries, from Haiti to Manila.

Two boys playing with colorful chalks on asphalt.
When children design cities, the possibilities are endless.
Photo: iStock/romrodinka

Urban planning starts with an idea

Involving children and young adults in city planning processes is a must according to German urban planner Julian Petrin. Together with his team, he works on innovative concepts for the city of the future in all parts of Germany. “Children and teenagers should be our target group. They are the ones populating the cities of the future,” he underscores.

It’s not enough to hand the kids a few pens and ask them to draw something. “We need to observe the children.” How do they perceive their surroundings? What do they need? What are their ingredients for a perfect playground? That’s something you can only find out through observation, adds Petrin.

Child drawing a house with chalks.
Urban planners increasingly value kids as target audience.
Photo: iStock/pasicevo

What makes children and their ideas of the city so special is the notion of sustainability. Their visions invariably involve more green and more space for everyone: “That’s in the children’s very nature.” Along with ingenuity and creativity, it seems. If you ask kids what they want, you’d better be prepared for a curious surprise or two. An artificial sun that shines day and night, conveyor belts to replace tedious walks, or busses that stop whenever you hail them.

Interventions and innovations have growing impact on city development. The best ideas are oftentimes of playful origin. We can all partake in building tomorrow’s city. So, let’s contribute creativity, fun, and phantastic visions.