Every now and again, any type of campaigning or advocacy work feels like it’s going nowhere. But then, something happens and you get complete clarity as to why you are doing it.
A week ago was such a moment when in the School Streets letterbox was a bunch of handwritten letters from a school in the East of England. Four Year 4 pupils chose us as the recipient for their persuasive writing exercise. Each of them made the case for School Streets as they would like the street outside their school gate to become one.
The paragraphs flowed logically, following well thought out arguments and each point made was backed up by statistics and factual information from trustworthy sources. Each letter expresses valid concerns over danger to children from cars, the associated risks to their physical safety and harm to their health and the wider environment.
Not only this confirms what we already knew – children get it – but it also highlights that there is great value in giving children a voice. School Streets obviously benefit the wider community but principally the children and they should be heard and full participants in that conversation.
When we discuss the built environment, how our streets should look like or what transport is available to people to get to where they need to be, designing from a children-friendly perspective is a good starting point. Because if it works for them, chances are, it will work for many others, not least those most at risk. It would provide more equitable spaces and create places far more stimulating than the usual approach. Children experience streets differently than those designing them. Their input would provide valuable insights to make sure it works for them.
It was an honour to read these letters and I wish those children and all their classmates the best in their effort to have a School Streets implemented outside their school.
Children, please do continue to voice your concerns, express your hopes and share what solutions you think would work for you. The world is yours just as much as it is ours and your voice matters.
If you are an urban planner, council officer or a councillor and want to find out more about making our streets more children-friendly, here is a very good piece to start with, written by Lucy Marstrand-Taussig, Technical Lead for walking and cycling at Metis Consultants.