Youth helping to build El Sereno Arroyo Playground
Photo: Parks & Recreation Magazine

Urban parks often feature programming for children, from New York City’s Prospect Park to the Junior Ranger program in San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area and many more all over the world. Cities are also exploring ways for kids to participate in designing and shaping the parks and urban green spaces that will become places for them to play, learn and grow. Here are just a few examples of cities inviting children to contribute to urban park planning:

  • The organization Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, collaborated with partners in Flint, Michigan to assess and develop strategic plans for improving city parks. As part of the planning process, the team conducted focus groups with youth to understand their perception and points of view and include their input as the plan was developed.
  • The Trust for Public Land, in collaboration with planners for the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, set up community participation stations at future access points to the trail (several of which are at current neighborhood parks), at which kids had the opportunity to create artwork representing what they wanted their future park and trail to be.
  • A City Parks Forum Briefing Paper about the role of parks in children’s education and development highlights Cary, North Carolina’s Kids Together Park, discussing the inclusive participation process children were a part of to create the park. The briefing paper notes that: “a strong demand was made to retain natural features of the original site and to add many other natural elements to the design” (p. 4).
  • The El Sereno Arroyo Playground, according to a recent article by Danielle Taylor in Parks & Recreation magazine, incorporated children’s ideas into the design and planning process. According to Taylor, there are plans to expand the park with a natural play garden that will be a demonstration project of the Natural Play and Learning Area Guidelines Project, and will “showcase national guidelines for nature playscapes.”
  • Though a bit further out of the city than most of the parks discussed above, the recent short film “How the Kids Saved the Parks” captures the pioneering efforts of students from Grass Valley Charter School in California to save South Yuba River State Park from closure. The film follows the children’s “mobile media action team,” their collection of 10,000 petition signatures, and highlights their effusive personal accounts of their love for the park, and leaves the viewer with a sense that this and all the other efforts to involve children in park planning and advocacy are worthwhile.

As we continue to plan and design biophilic cities, we should keep our youngest citizens in mind: their thoughts, desires, energies and talents. The more we can involve kids in celebrating wild spaces and integrating nature into urban places, the better they will be for all.

Julia Triman, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Julia is a masters candidate in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.