1

In countries like Finland and Germany, the need to include children in participative processes is expressly recognised, while Tonucci seeks to incorporate their opinions in urban planning decisions by means of Children’s Councils.

2

In her thesis “Children’s Turn to Participate!”, Hanna Kapanen cites the “Encountering Pedagogy” developed by Kallio-Tavin and Vezzoli as a possible theoretical basis for the participative process.

3

The different steps on Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation, from lowest to highest, are:  1. Manipulation, 2. Decoration, 3. Tokenism, 4. Assigned but informed, 5. Consulted and informed, 6. Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people, 7. Young people-initiated and directed, and 8. Young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults. Also, see the 2002 revision of this ladder by Francis & Lorenzo.

Children have their say, but is their participation taken into account when designing spaces?

Let’s imagine a space for children. And let’s also imagine that it’s a well-designed space. The project report explains that it was designed with the direct participation of the children themselves, taking into account their ideas and opinions.  The images, however, only show the end result. What activities were actually carried out with the children? What challenges need to be faced when involving toddlers in the design of urban buildings and spaces?

Children are citizens with full rights. It says so in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). Article 12 of that same convention also states that “Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child”1.

However, the involvement of children is an experimental field with some very special characteristics:

  1. It is closely linked to education.  The most efficient methodologies stem from pedagogical approaches2, and therefore require specialists capable of applying different techniques and offering a variety of creative design tools to help each child express their opinion. The ultimate goal is to ensure that children’s contributions are understood, and that their involvement does not become a mere publicity stunt or, as very often happens, a subject of frivolity.
  2. It requires indirect methods. Author Susan Solomon warns of potential failure when playgrounds are designed after directly asking the children concerned what they would like to see, because children tend to reiterate the things they are familiar with, with distinctly unimaginative results. As an alternative, she looks at methods like those implemented by Roger Hart, based on indirect questions (What would they like to do? What frightens them? What makes them feel comfortable?, etc.) and close observation of how children play and interact.
  3. Children should be integrated into the process as the real experts on their own needs regarding comfort, social interaction and play. It’s also crucial to involve them in the analysis stage, identifying a space’s shortcomings right at the start and generating empathy with other users.
  4. The scale of the space being designed. According to Angela Million, children are more likely to participate in spaces that are familiar to them and form part of their daily lives. They tend to show less interest in larger scales. This consideration, together with the design process’s pedagogical goals, has made school playgrounds an interesting field of study which is now the context for a number of experiments into education-based participation.
  5. The time needed to implement the process.  Generally speaking, children’s participation requires preparation and analysis of results that do not fit in with school calendars and deadlines.  Taking Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation as a reference, this means that many processes merely ask the children what they want (for example, by means of a drawing), but then no feedback is forthcoming about how the children’s ideas have been used or turned into valid design principles. It should be noted that without this second phase, the children’s participation cannot be said to be real, because their contribution is limited to the initial “manipulation” stage3. Also, the longer the project takes to materialise, the more the younger children tend to lose interest and enthusiasm.

The full richness and benefits of well-planned participation by children – both for the design of children’s spaces and for the educational development of the participants – are still a long way off. Key issues to be considered include the creative approach, appropriate timeframes, observation and a solid pedagogical basis. But above all, we need to start by listening carefully to the children themselves and making a firm commitment, over and above the marketing hype so typical in this kind of project,  to incorporate their points of view.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor

Notas de página
1

In countries like Finland and Germany, the need to include children in participative processes is expressly recognised, while Tonucci seeks to incorporate their opinions in urban planning decisions by means of Children’s Councils.

2

In her thesis “Children’s Turn to Participate!”, Hanna Kapanen cites the “Encountering Pedagogy” developed by Kallio-Tavin and Vezzoli as a possible theoretical basis for the participative process.

3

The different steps on Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation, from lowest to highest, are:  1. Manipulation, 2. Decoration, 3. Tokenism, 4. Assigned but informed, 5. Consulted and informed, 6. Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people, 7. Young people-initiated and directed, and 8. Young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults. Also, see the 2002 revision of this ladder by Francis & Lorenzo.

Autor:
Es arquitecta por la ETSA de Sevilla (2003) y Máster en Arquitectura y Patrimonio Histórico (2008). Primer premio por su fin de carrera en la XXI Edición del Premio Dragados. Se forma en el estudio de Ricardo Alario, con quien comparte actualmente actividad profesional . En 2011 funda junto a Tibisay Cañas, Laura Organvídez, Ana Parejo y Sara Parrilla cuartocreciente arquitectura, una iniciativa creada con el objetivo de mejorar los tres espacios principales en los que se desarrolla la niñez (casa, escuela y ciudad) a través de la investigación, los talleres de arquitectura, la realización de proyectos y el diseño de objetos. Actualmente desarrolla un tesis sobre el espacio de juego exterior en la infancia, dirigida por Ángel Martínez García-Posada. Ha escrito y presentado diversas comunicaciones sobre el playground y el juego del niño en la ciudad.

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