Design

Make informed design choices for effective interventions

Design for early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts can be complex. Making informed design decisions is critical to an effective and context sensitive intervention that will have lasting positive change for young children, their caregivers and pregnant women, with benefits for the whole community where they live.

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Why this matters

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for improving early childhood development in vulnerable urban contexts. Considerations around community norms, social and material safety, durability and permanence must be carefully weighed. Equally important is designing for increasing economic opportunity and facilitating relationships between the target community and local authorities.

 
“It’s really designing with communities to understand what they need and to make sure whatever we’re proposing is tailored to their needs”  - Jose Chong, Programme Management Officer at UN-HABITAT

Explore a library of guiding principles, downloadable co-creation tools, design solutions, and best-practice examples from around the globe, to help you make informed design choices and optimise your projects for creating effective and context sensitive interventions.

Guiding Principles & Case Studies

Follow these principles to design effective and context sensitive interventions, that can make lasting positive change for your project beneficiaries, and the broader community where they live in.

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Build health and safety by design

Material and social health and safety are frequently compromised in vulnerable urban contexts, especially in terms of exposure to social, environmental, climate and man-made hazards. Young children, their caregivers and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable and often require additional safe spaces for their daily routines, such as breastfeeding facilities, and even higher standards for hygiene than the rest of the population.

 

Interventions should look to improve health and safety conditions through design solutions that tackle issues of pollution, access to water and sanitation, as well as social conflict and environmental, climate and man-made risks.

 

Pay attention to the sources of risk (i.e. high speed of traffic, environmental hazards, crime hotspots) as well as the spatial strategies and construction materials used to intervene. On some occasions lightweight temporary materials can be highly effective to achieve a short term improvement of safety. In other cases, the design might require tougher durable materials that can be locally sourced.

HOW

LOCALISING INTERVENTIONS

Social safety concerns are heavily dependent upon public perception of an area, particularly as regards maintenance and upkeep. Improving visibility through retrofitting lighting and including stimulating and interactive elements in a space can help shift both how the space is used and perceived.

Case Study

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THINKING SPATIALLY

Establishing alternative routes, passive surveillance, caregiver-child sightlines and material choice are priorities that can meaningfully change safety dynamics in a target area.

Case Study

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CHOOSING MATERIAL

Material elements required to restrict car circulation or reduce their speed can be light and low cost, making them an affordable quick win.

Case Study

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CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS

Establishing a community-agreed, caregiver-friendly space or network of sites where safety is a priority can provide an alternative to zones of known hazards for children.

Case Study

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Create networks of open spaces and social infrastructure

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A child infrastructure network means looking beyond just playgrounds and instead promoting connected, multifunctional, intergenerational and sustainable public spaces, that families and communities can enjoy together, and that can generate a substantial range of benefits for all citizens.

 

Multiple project sites should be treated as nodes in a network of safe and stimulating spaces, rather than as discrete locations if at all possible. When creating or retrofitting a facility or space, consider the departure, journey and access routes as a component of the design, and identify opportunities to extend physical safety (through materials, grading and signage), social safety (through sightlines, passive surveillance and lighting) and cognitive stimulation (through colourful, moving, or interactive elements) throughout the connecting routes.

HOW

LOCALISING INTERVENTIONS

Provide the best possible visibility, connection and accessibility to existing and new interventions to create focal points or social hubs in the neighbourhood.

Case Study

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THINKING SPATIALLY

Build materially and socially safe walkways linking young children's nodal points to one another. This will create networks rather than isolated spaces in the urban fabric.

Case Study

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CHOOSING MATERIAL

Consistently paved sidewalks and ramps on road crossings for buggies and wheelchair accessibility can increase the mobility of caregivers and in turn of young children.

Case Study

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MAKING VISUAL

Link spaces through wayfinding elements equally visible to children and caregivers (i.e. children-made signage or consistently distributed coloured elements).

Case Study

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CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS

Intervening in existing spaces can leverage positive social practices and, where necessary, address negative social dynamics that exclude certain groups.

Case Study

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Take play and learning beyond playgrounds and schools

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Create diversified and alternative scenarios for young children's development beyond schools and playgrounds, by designing for exploratory incidental and unstructured play, social interaction and informal learning opportunities in the public realm.

 

Encouraging neighbourhood engagement with young children-specific spaces can provide a pathway to disseminating early childhood development best practice and knowledge, increasing community cohesion, and enabling advocacy.

HOW

LOCALISING INTERVENTIONS

Maximise project effectiveness by targeting locations where multiple interest groups' priorities overlap (e.g. upgrading marketplaces and areas surrounding water points will have shared benefits for children, caregivers and government authorities).

Case Study

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THINKING SPATIALLY

Everyday elements of spaces, structures and facilities can be modified or configured to provide cognitive stimulation for children's optimal development.

Case Study

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CHOOSING MATERIAL

Include sitting surfaces, furniture and slopes in the design to encourage use by a range of ages and abilities. Arrange buildings or structures to facilitate public performances or social events, such as storytelling or film screenings.

Case Study

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MAKING VISUAL

Murals, painted streets and objects provide cognitive stimulation for young children. These elements’ co-creation with children imparts a sense of ownership.

Case Study

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CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS

Support activities that foster a sense of community and bring local residents together in accessible public spaces. Activities can range from outdoor storytelling, art workshops, film screenings, concerts, recreational activities, exhibitions, talks and sports.

Case Study

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INFLUENCING POLICY

The viability of interventions can be enhanced by applying mixed-use solutions that apply to different groups and scenarios (e.g. traffic calming, ramps, seating and shade areas, service areas).

Case Study

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Connect the community inside and out

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Mobility is a prime concern in many vulnerable urban contexts: access, safety, affordability and time spent on transit systems can all be major sources of caregiver stress.

 

Connectivity between people and space is crucial to expanding opportunity and improving early childhood development. Improving connectivity and mobility can elevate the safety and confidence of the community, increase local vibrancy, provide more stimulation for children, and drive economic activity, increasing resources available to caregivers.

 

Exploit opportunities to enhance both stimulation and pedestrian safety, including segregating a child-and-caregiver friendly shoulder; implementing grading, material improvements, curb cuts and signage for prams, children and wheelchairs; and integrating both physical and symbolic traffic calming measures.

HOW

LOCALISING INTERVENTIONS

Identify where projects can maximise connection and enhance mobility: by improving access to services, co-location or mixed-use spaces; by ensuring safe, inclusive access to affordable transport; and by building in affordances for the caregiver-child pair such as rest areas, traffic calming measures and pram-friendly pavements.

Case Study

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THINKING SPATIALLY

Wherever possible, ensure that spatial connections between settlements and transit networks feature stimulating, quality multi-use public spaces and routes. This will create a network of spaces that caregivers and children enjoy visiting.

Case Study

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CHOOSING MATERIAL

Paved sidewalks, kerb cuts or ramps at road crossings, and defined crosswalks promote stroller and wheelchair accessibility.

Case Study

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CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS

When linking nodes in a network of safe caregiver-and child-friendly spaces, prioritise connections with informal or established transit solutions to maximise caregiver access to economic opportunity.

Case Study

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Connect children with nature

Children need nature as much as nature needs children. A connection with nature is associated with a range of physical and mental health benefits, including lower rates of obesity, depression, stress and attention disorders. At the same time, this connection generates a sense of respect and protection for nature. No one will protect what they do not care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.

 

However, in vulnerable urban contexts it can be difficult for children to develop and maintain meaningful contact with nature.

 

Adopt green solutions to make nature a part of children’s everyday journeys. These solutions can also become measures that improve climate resilience, while creating opportunities to expand children’s access to nature. For instance, a network of green infrastructure-based surface interventions can transform existing urban areas into multifunctional floodable or absorbent public spaces.

HOW

LOCALISING INTERVENTIONS

Locating community gardens near residential areas creates opportunities to bridge the contemporary disconnects between urban environments and the ways in which nature and agriculture work.

Case Study

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THINKING SPATIALLY

Natural environments are fundamental 'sensory gyms' that stimulate young children's imagination and learning through exploration and unstructured play.

Case Study

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CHOOSING MATERIAL

Use the elements of the local natural landscape like vegetation, geography and views, to offer different stimulation experiences such as active play, imaginative play and sensory play.

Case Study

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CONSIDERING SOCIAL DYNAMICS

Young children have a unique perspective on the changes throughout the seasons and how they can play with the elements. If we learn from this ability of children to appreciate the way nature transforms the city into a playful environment, spaces can benefit from a more flexible design approach through seasonal affective design that leaves room for the user to co-create.

Case Study

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Design Tools

The Design Tools can be used to assist the design process, and for engaging users and beneficiaries, to support the identification and design of child- and family friendly solutions that respond to the site and the beneficiaries’ needs and vision for the future.

Co-creation Workshop: Conduct co-creation workshops with children and caregivers to share knowledge around the importance of early childhood development.

Design Ideas: A menu of design ideas were developed to support and inspire future initiatives.

YARD App: YARD is an Augmented Reality (AR) based tool for co-creating better public spaces. YARD engages communities in the process of designing and validating interventions.