We let kids design our city — here’s what happened | Mara Mintzer | TEDxMileHigh

We let kids design our city — here’s what happened | Mara Mintzer | TEDxMileHigh

Translator: Ekaterina Shipatova
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ Our society routinely makes decisions without consulting
a quarter of the population. We are making choices about land use,
energy production, and natural resources without the ideas and the experiences
of the full community. The car, an inanimate object,
has more say of our public policy than this group of citizens. Can you guess which group
I’m talking about? It’s children! I work in urban design, and not surprisingly,
most cities are designed by adults, urban planners, architects,
developers, politicians, and occasionally, a few loud citizens. Rarely do you consider the voices
of a group of four-year-olds, barely tall enough to reach
the podium at city council chambers. But today I’m going to ask you this: What would happen if we asked
children to design our cities? (Laughter) Back in 2009, I was introduced
to a small group of people, who wanted to start a child-friendly
city initiative in Boulder, Colorado. I come from a family
of civil rights advocates, and I had spent my career
until that point working with low-income
children and families. But I had never heard of a child-friendly
city initiative before! So, I figured its purpose
would be to address some of the frustrations I had encountered
as the parent of a young child. Perhaps, we would advocate
for more changing tables in restaurants or create indoor play spaces
for those cold and rainy days. In other words, make the city
more hospitable to children and families. It wasn’t until after I committed to this project
that I realized I had it all wrong. We wouldn’t be designing
better cities for children; children would be designing
better cities for themselves and for the rest of us too. Now, I bet you are skeptical
about this idea, and honestly, I was, too. I mean, there must be a reason
the voting age is 18. (Laughter) How could children possibly
understand complex ideas, such as the affordable housing crisis or how to develop
a transportation masterplan. And even if they had ideas,
wouldn’t they be childish or unreasonable? Do our cities really need
a park made out of candy? (Laughter) Or a bridge with water
cannons that fire water onto unsuspecting kayakers below? (Laughter) Well, these concerns sound legitimate, I realized that not including
children in city planning was a bigger design problem. After all, shouldn’t we include
end users in the design process? If we are building a park
to be largely used by kids, then kids should have a say
in the park’s design! So with all of this in mind we formed a program
called “Growing Up Boulder,” and my job is to work
with children ages 0 through 18 to come up with innovative
city design solutions. How do we do this, you might ask. Let me give you a real example. In 2012, the city of Boulder
decided to redesign a large downtown park
known as The Civic Area. This space is bounded
by a farmers market on one end, Boulder Public Library on the other end, and by Boulder Creek,
which runs through the middle. The space needed a new design to better handle the creek’s
inevitable flash floods, restore a sense of safety to the area, and support an expanded farmers market. So from 2012 through 2014, we engaged more than
200 young people in the process, ranging from pre-school
through high-school students. First, we visited children
in their classrooms and presented the project: what it was, why their ideas mattered and what would happen
with their recommendations. Before we could influence them, we asked children to record their ideas
based on their own lived experiences. Then we asked children
to go on a field trip with us to document what they liked
and didn’t like about the space using photography. Through green picture frames students highlighted
what they liked about the space such as college students
tubing down the creek. (Laughter) Then they flipped those frames over and used the red side to highlight
things they didn’t like, such as trash. Our sixth-grade students
studied the Civic Area by researching sites with similar
challenges from around the world. Then we invited the kids to combine their original ideas
with their new inspiration to synthesize solutions
to improve the space. Each class invited adult planners,
city council and community members into the classroom to share
and discuss their recommendations. Boulder senior urban planner
stepped over blocks and stuffed animals to explore pre-school students’ full-size
classroom recreation of the Civic Area. Adult planners marveled
at the students’ ideas as they shared a park constructed
out of a jelly bracelet – it was supposed
to be an ice-skating rink – and then public ark constructed
from animal-shaped plastic beads. And while this may seem ridiculous, it isn’t so different from the models
that architects create. Now, fast-forward four years,
and I am pleased to report that many of the children’s ideas
are being implemented in the Civic Area. For example, there will be improved
access to Boulder Creek so kids can play safely in the water. Lighting in previously dark underpasses, so high-school students can walk home
safely after school at night. And separated biking and walking pads, so speeding bikers won’t hit
young people as they stroll by the Creek. My daughter and I even skated on a new, child-requested
ice-skating rink last winter. Were all of the kids’ ideas
implemented at the Civic Area? Of course not! Democracy is a messy process. But just as a reasonable
and well-informed adult does not expect all
of her ideas to be utilized, neither does a nine-year-old. We’ve now been using
this process for eight years, and along the way we found
some incredible benefits to designing cities with children. First of all, kids think
differently from adults, and that’s a good thing. Adults think about constraints: How much time will a project take? How much money will it cost? And how dangerous will it be? In other words, are we going to get sued? (Laughter) It’s not that these
constraints aren’t real, but if we kill off ideas
from the beginning, it limits our creativity
and dampens the design process. Kids, on the other hand,
think about possibilities. For kids, the sky is the limit, literally. When we worked with middle-school students
to design teen-friendly parks, they drew pictures
of skydiving, hang gliding, (Laughter) and jumping from jet trampolines
into giant foam pits. (Laughter) Some of these sound far-fetched, but the commonalities among the activities
revealed an important story. Our adolescents wanted
thrill-seeking opportunities, which makes perfect sense,
given their developmental stage in life. So our task as connectors
between inspiration and reality was to point them towards activities and equipment that actually
could be installed in a park. This is exactly what parks
in Australia have done with their extensive zip-lines
and their 30-foot tall climbing towers. When kids dream up a space, they almost always include fun,
play and movement in their designs. Now, this is not what adults prioritize. But research shows
that fun, play and movement are exactly what adults need
to stay healthy, too! Who wouldn’t enjoy a tree-house
containing a little lending library and comfortable
beanbag chairs for reading? Or what about a public art display that sprays paint onto a canvas
each time you walk up the steps? In addition to fun and play,
children value beauty in their designs. When tasked with designing
dense affordable housing, kids rejected the blocks
of identical beige condominiums that so many developers favour, and instead put
bright colors on everything, from housing to play equipment. They placed flowers
between biking and walking pads and placed benches along the creek, so kids could hang out with their friends
and enjoy the tranquility of the water, which leads me to nature. Children have a biological need
to connect with nature, and this shows up in their designs. They want nature right in their backyards,
not four blocks away. So they designed communities that incorporate water,
fruit trees, flowers and animals into their common spaces on sight. This is logical, because five-year-olds today
are rarely allowed to walk four blocks to access a park by themselves. And nature in one’s immediate
environment benefits everyone since it has been shown to have
restorative effects for all ages. It may come as a surprise,
but we even take into consideration the desires of our littlest citizens,
babies and toddlers. From toddlers we learned that the joy of walking comes
from what you discover along the way. When they evaluated the walkability
of Boulder’s 19th Street corridor, toddlers spent long stretches exploring leaves in a ditch
and sparkles in the side-walk. They reminded us to slow down and design a path where the journey
is as important as the destination. In addition to trees and plants, kids almost always include
animals in their designs. Insects, birds and small mammals figure prominently
into children’s pictures. Whether it’s because
they’re closer to the ground and can see the grasshoppers
better than we can, or simply because they have a greater
sense of empathy for other beings, children almost always include
non-human species in their ideal worlds. Accross the board, children
are inclusive in their city-planning. They design for everyone, from their grandmother in a wheelchair to the homeless woman
they see sleeping in the park. Children design for living creatures, not for cars, egos or corporations. The last and, perhaps, most
compelling discovery we made is that a city friendly to children
is a city friendly to all. Bogota, Columbia Mayor
Enrique Peñalosa observed that children are a kind
of indicator species. If we can build a successful
city for children, we will have a successful
city for all people. Think about it. Kids can’t just hop in a car
and drive to the store, and most kids can’t afford
an expensive lunch at a nearby cafe. So if we build cities
that take into consideration their needs for alternative
forms of transportation and for cheaper food venues, we meet the needs of many
other populations, too. The more frequent
and more affordable bus service, so desired by our youth, also supports the elderly,
who wish to live independently after they can no longer drive cars. Teens’ recommendations for smooth, protected walking
and skateboarding paths also support the person in a wheelchair,
or the parent pushing a new stroller. So to me, all of this has revealed
something important, an important blind spot. If we aren’t including
children in our planning, who also aren’t we including? Are we listening to people of color,
immigrants, the elderly and people with disabilities
or with reduced incomes? What innovative design solutions
are we overlooking? Because we aren’t hearing
the voices of the full community. We can’t possibly know the needs and wants
of other people without asking. That goes for kids and for everyone else. So adults, let’s stop thinking
of our children as future citizens, and instead start valuing them
for the citizens they are today. Because our children
are designing the cities that will make us happier and healthier, cities filled with nature, play, movement,
social connection and beauty. Children are designing the cities
we all want to live in. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “We let kids design our city — here’s what happened | Mara Mintzer | TEDxMileHigh

  1. This is how kids should actually be taught. Not sitting in desks for hours on end. We need opportunities to leave the school and use our knowledge hands on.

  2. i've climbed the tower at 8:28 . it's great. good sense of risk, but even if you lost your grip (unlikely) the tangle of ropes would stop u before u hit the ground

  3. I love this. The city belongs to everyone and it is time our collective decisions on the future of where we live, work and play need to include everyone.

  4. This really feels like something the teachers just placed upon the kids and they just took it as another assessment project.

  5. We have tried this in China no good dam has hole in middle train tracks go no where planes fly up side down and everyone spy .

  6. clickbait. where's the 4 year olds designing the cities? the youngest children were gradeschool, and only submitting ideas. not in charge of actual design.
    So we didn't let kids design our city. We just took their opinions on the matter. The first one is a terrible idea. the second is of course a good idea.

  7. this is anther old person generalizing all people between 1 and 18 (notice I said people not kids yes we are people) and thinking that teens have no concept of money or other constraints

  8. Are we listening to immigrants? I think the question is, at what point do we stop listening? Is there a cut off point? Do we differentiate between the classification of immigrants that there are? Do we try to destroy those classifications and lump them all together?

    My statement for the above is that these questions should be asked. And many more. I don't necessarily take a side when I ask them other than the side that believes these things need to be addressed.

  9. This speaks volumes about how even the smallest ant can gather its colony when water will flood their home. This is why we need to listen to all voices even the smallest ones.

  10. i once went to a playground and there was loads of wood and no colours and it just felt like it wasn’t made for kids, like it was just there for decoration

  11. if i lived in this city i’d probably be a lot happier, the environment i’m in affects my mood a lot and this environment would be perfect. and it would keep kids from staying inside on their computers cuz there would be stuff to go and do. i think cities should have certain walls that allow graffiti, so then people can express themselves and make murals and it’ll be expected and nice

  12. I am a 12th grader from Germany and when parts of the park next to our school were to be redesigned, the planners actually turned to us and asked us to think of things we wanted to be implemented and build models of them. At the time I was I think in 9th grade. Together with a few friends, I wanted to design a climbing park, taking advantage of the already existing trees. While they didn't use the trees for that, they took inspiration from us and built a climbing structure that even follows the color palette and some of the design queues from our model. To see that our ideas are valued and that we can help reshape things for the better was a great experience that I hope many more children will encounter.

  13. i, scared bc i dunt feel like a kid when i am, im scared bc i know my mind is closing up to creativity and more to logic and stuff when im only 14. The problem is when teachers ask us to be creative, they are literally forcing us to be creative. They said be creative, draw design smth creative. And me and my friends just go,, what again? what is creativity? It something you go on on yr own to think, draw design. Kids dunt need 50 mins to sit there and think of a design to hand up to the teachers. Kids need to be able to go off on THEIR OWN, or FRIENDS, and not be dragged around and forced to explore things they already know. We dunt need walks in Scinece centre with the teacher telling us you got 5 minutes, take the pictures, observe and write it down. We dunt want to be restricted in an area where we are told to observe a certain thing. We want to stop when we can, admire the small un noticable things that adults overlook or say its not relevant.
    i just want to say im 14 and i can say that forcing, or hurrying us, expecting us to be creative just bc of our age isnt going to help us to be creative.

  14. I full heartedly agree with you lady.
    I’m a teenager who is frustrated by the actions adults make without the consideration of the younger generations even though we will be around longer that they will be but if they changed their ways, let us help them, the world will be a better place.

  15. When I was younger I had the idea of building a futuristic city that would separate metropolis and nature, large domes would be constructed around each city, and air pumps inside the domes would un-pollute the air, if airplanes wanted to get in the domes are made of hexagons and they would turn so they’d open so that planes could fit through. The wildlife would live outside to be protected from the polluted cities. I imagined using large fans for flying cars and other motored vehicles, everything would be solar powered, and we would start planting trees and plants everywhere, and for every house that was built 30 trees had to be planted.
    This was my idea in 5th grade.

  16. There is one thing I see as an issue with these plans. Elderly and handicapped that have help by a chauffeur. Or elderly that is too sick to use public transport or to walk too far. What about them? They can be just as neglected as children, although many of us will one day face the same destiny

  17. My mom always tells me that when she was my age she actually played in nature but whenever I showed her the bugs I caught as a kid she’d flip out and make me throw it back so I guess it was her fault

  18. I get the need to plan for children, disabled people, wealth differences and old people. I would even understand the integration of different cultures in a cityplan to accommodate different traditions, religions etc. But why people of colour? What difference would make the colour of your skin to the city planning? If you want to put ppl with darker skin in places with more sun and ppl with lighter skin in places with more shadow, that does seem unessecary to me and would look a lot like seperation.

  19. My local park has a community hut in it that had originally been used for military purposes during WW2. Needless to say this "temporary" building became past its sell by date for a number of reasons.

    So the community group decided to consult on a replacement building, and a large part of that consultation was about asking young people what they wanted from the new hut.

    On a Saturday they basically had a family day in the park to encourage as wide as possible participation as possible, with different age groups given projects to design what they want.

    Needless to say some of the stuff sounded quite bizarre, or unrealistic, however many aspects of what was being suggested was incorporated, particularly the desire for the building to be eco friendly, and to be as multi-use as possible, and even some of the grander ideas were scaled down and implemented in a more realistic way.

    What appeared on the surface to be paying lip service (in a fun way) to the younger members of the community actually did serve to push for a design of building that met the needs and desires of the community as a whole including the young people.

    So in my experience this sort of exercise is very positive.

  20. If I was given a chance to do this at a younger age, I feel I would understand how the government works much more clearly.

  21. For the cost of 1 less building in a neighborhood, you can afford enough trees, benches and special bicycle lanes to fill the area.
    It's totally worth it, and you can also use the space left by the building to build a statue or something.

  22. Not the best public speaker. but a lot of people out there are 100% sure 4rth grades could run the world better than our current leadership.

  23. This is such an inspiring and interesting idea and I think it’s great that kids’ ideas were incorporated!😄

  24. Exploiting children as a resource for their insight is not a new idea. What is a, relatively, new idea is expecting less from their intellect.
    Why? The trend is to delay people joining the workforce. ¿They are not intellectually viable until they start working?

    Used to be no permanent work until after secondary school (high school), now it’s no permanent work until after post-secondary school (Bachelor’s /undergrad / college). This is the trend, does not apply for every case. Society is basically saying, “You are not smart enough until you pass this threshold.”

    Society demands less intellectual capability from their children because it is being deferred to a later time. This will not be fixed by any government institution…local, state, and certainly not federal…which are satisfied if your kid comes home unharmed, forget educated or enlightened (that’s called “babysitting”).

    I challenge the parents to challenge their children. Embrace the Socratic method. Are you raising them to become children, or are you raising them to become adults? Treat them how you want them to be. As much as they are learning, allow yourself to learn from them too.

    (Soapbox disengaged. I just get fired up about kids, eduction, and expectations.)

  25. A park made out of candy? I think that even at the age of 10 you wouldn't do that if you were trying to build a real city.

    Please come to my school in Sweden I have no reason in life

  26. Ot pnly austrailia
    In germany we have even bigger climbing towers often called spiderwebs by the children
    and zipping lines too
    our playgrounds are not sas safe as the amarican ones but they are more fun and they teach motoric skills to the kids better than a safer one would do

  27. Not only children
    I cant say if thats an higher IQ thing or because im autistic
    but i also think every life has the same weight
    im the first one that thinks of tortis and frog/toad tunnle below streatsgarden fences that let wild animals like foxes and deers and hadghogs easily ascape when they somehow accedentily got in there ..a animal in panic often can jump higher than a calm one

    and actually hate hate humanity for being so arrogant

    even my father is the same
    we talked about new effordable apartment buildings and all he did was talking about space
    the bulding he said schould be 8 levels high and best 7 of that buildings
    (we talked about unused space behind the central station)

    and i said wait a muinit.
    our city has problems with cooling down in summer so i argumented about greenery and wall hollows for the swifts and a small lake but big enought that the swifts have accsess to drink
    (last summer we had a drough whats unusual for germany so the birds left as soon as possible)
    so in my imagination there was a longer puilding with a stair desing so the first building had two levels the next 3 and so on till the last part had 6 levels (the last one just had solar celss i thought its to high to be used diffrent)
    with some solar panals (smaler ones) and the rooftops had grass on it wich everyone could use as a garden
    there was a playground near the small tiny lake and near the bulding but the playground was far enought from the wall so the sound of playing children would not bother the people that try to have some rest and piece

    i was so upsad that all my father was thinking of was living space no animals nor children where includet
    he did not even thought about the weather changes
    i mean since ever we have warmer and sometimes a more rainy summer here in middle germany but
    after last summer im worried about the nature here
    cause everyone has a positive and a negative
    i mean im happy the mosquitos died nearly out but that means birds and bat's have less food so in the end im sceptical

    so short story long.
    its not only children but people like me are also not taken for full

    cause humen are selfisch
    but people like me knoe
    a humens dead can mean a dear less that get hit by a car
    and at least the dear dose not poison the air

  28. As an 11-year-old, I've broken 4-5 laws. Sitting in the front seat with no seatbelt, littering, trespassing and other minor offenses. So sue me.

  29. Turned out to be a better TED talk than I thought. It was touch and go for a while in the beginning. Was slow to take off, but off it sure went. Solid TED talk, inspiring. We have a lot to learn from children and a lot to remember back when we were kids.

  30. Much of thr decisions made by the government shouldn't actually be decided on by the government or a vote. Free markets work better when you just stop putting your finger on the scale.

  31. Kids that could be a better cheaper way to deal with city issues maybe although I am thinking of the 14+.

  32. And people wonder why"Ah why are children sooo anti social"Cause society is not build to accumulate their basic kid instincts instead we relied on phones and videogames for that and you know what ,phones have lots of BS that change how they see the world.

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