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How Do Children Imagine An Ideal Square? We Involved Primary School Pupils In City Planning

Can children get involved in the planning of their city? In Hradec Králové (Czechia), it’s possible. In the fast-growing Kukleny district, a local developer decided to create a temporary square to improve the quality of life of the residents. Participation Factory was approached to design a participatory process that would engage the residents and involve them in the decision-making about the space. We took a step forward and decided to include the local primary school in the process as well. You can find out about the educational workshop for the Kukleny Primary School and what interesting data it has generated below!

We wanted to involve the pupils from the 2nd, 4th and 7th grade in what was happening in their neighborhood – of course in a way that is entertaining and fun. So, we created an interactive workshop that explained the principles of urban planning and taught the children about the creation of cities. At the same time, we gave them the opportunity to design their own space, which can be the inspiration for the real square, and to learn some participatory methods. 

During the first activity, What makes a city a city, we focused on the basic elements of each city and gave children the space to express what they think is necessary for a city. The children created a model of a city with a wide range of amenities, showing a good understanding of the elements and functioning of a city. The recurring theme was natural features, especially parks, trees, water bodies, fountains and places for animals, showing the high value of blue-green infrastructure even for the youngest citizens. 

In addition to informal education, the aim of the workshop was to find out what children would like to have in the temporary square in Kukleny. The most common positive elements were elements for entertainment and relaxation, but also decorative elements. On the other hand, children do not want overflowing garbage cans and trash, drug addicts and homeless people in their square. It is clear that children also perceive problematic aspects of public space. At the same time, they can appreciate if the space is well maintained. Generally, when creating public spaces, the child users are often forgotten. A child wants to feel safe and comfortable, but the perception of safety can be very different for children than for adults. By involving pupils in the creation of a temporary square, we want to draw attention to this issue and enable the creation of a public space that is also youth-friendly. 

This was also the aim of the final activity, which allowed the pupils to design their own space that can become an inspiration for the temporary square of Kukleny. They drew, described or modeled their ideas and then presented their designs to their classmates. In addition, the pupils tried the participatory method of prioritization.

So, what should the temporary square look like? In their opinion, the ideal square should not lack blue-green infrastructure elements, a playground, but also shops or a theatre. Since children want to spend their free time in the square, they must feel comfortable there. This is made possible, for example, by statues and other decorative elements, but, above all, by the knowledge that they have had the opportunity to participate in the creation of the space and that their suggestions have been taken into account.

The educational workshops and their outcomes show that children have an awareness of the cultural and natural significance of cities and can bring interesting ideas in the context of their own neighborhood. In addition, through children, the interest in ones surrounding also reaches their parents, who are thus opened up to the topic of civic participation and the possibility of directly influencing events in their locality. The project days at schools are therefore just the beginning of the way to increase the involvement of citizens in city-planning processes. In Kukleny we have already followed up with a participatory meeting for the general public!