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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

12 ways to make cities more child-friendly

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For far too long, many people have considered family life and urban life as being mutually exclusive. That trend is slowly reversing, as more and more parents choose to raise their kids in urban areas. However, city builders often fail to consider their smallest, most vulnerable users. As Enrique Peñalosa famously said: “”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.”

The following slideshow describes twelve ways we can make our cities more amenable to kids. These are by no means a comprehensive list, but are designed as a conversation starter. Have any suggestions? Leave them in the comments section!


Chris Bruntlett is a Residential Designer and father of two, living the (car-free) East Van dream. Outside of the office, he diligently documents the rise of mainstream bicycle culture via words, photographs, and film. He cherishes the ability to live and work in a dense, vibrant, sustainable city, and contribute to that vision on a daily basis. You can find Chris on Twitter: @cbruntlett



  1. Used to be that children actually played on the streets, because there were no cars to worry about. Today, the motor vehicles have conquered the streets, even spreading out asphalt to give them a smoother ride.

  2. I have been thinking that a more useful approach to getting bikelanes installed, instead of focussing on “how do we get commuters downtown” would be to take the approach of “how do we get kids 12-15 safely to school.” A bike network that was a series of connected hub networks, with each hub being a public school, is still a network, and “Toronto is a city where it’s safe for children to bike to school” is a motherhood-and-apple-pie slogan most people could get behind.


  3. Thanks for your thoughtful list Chris! Great examples here – love the local Point Grey Road shot.
    You’ve already noted that we should activate laneways and I’d like to add other underutilized spaces – like under bridges, empty lots, railway lands etc.
    Kids love gardens too and any chance to get their hands dirty and learn how things grow is another plus.
    The examples you note are not only beneficial to children but us older kids enjoy and learn from an activated and engaging public realm.

  4. Great list! So colourful and fun for everyone! All of these ideas hinge on making public spaces into places to BE rather than just get through on the way to something else. I also really like Richard’s idea of community oriented bike lanes – so many kids in my downtown neighborhood never ride because of the perceived traffic issues. A decent school commute is the place to start.

  5. I love the notion of playground everywhere. Hopscotch courts! Four square! Street tennis and handball. It’s all good!

  6. How about outdoor reading rooms, with great children’s picture books? We’re doing this in New York City (see: Would love to find an organization to use our kit and do something similar in Toronto.

  7. Fantastic post on a conversation that seldom involves our children. I would suggest one important addition to your list: cities and school boards need to work together to ensure that our children have more opportunities to walk and wheel to school and to do it safely! Tools like School Travel Planning can help get us there.

  8. Great suggestions. I would add have “messages” on the public art extolling the virtues of a diverse city landscape (e.g., children, adults, families, and seniors). Oftentimes, cities are seen as playgrounds for adults, so I think people need to be reminded that they too were once children and to not denigrate the caregivers/kids who share the spaces with them.

  9. C’est bien, bonnes idées. Mais un peu de verdure, de la végétation, des ruelles vertes, des jardins, des espaces verts SVP et des municipalités qui s’engagent réellement dans un vaste chantier de reverdissement avec des entreprises d’économie sociale, des groupes communautaires, et une vision à moyen terme. Fini le gazon synthétique sur les surfaces sportives et pour une pratique écologique des activités sportives.

    Je suis prêt à soutenir une action concrète à Montréal.

  10. Great list and comments – yes we need to think about play for all in the sense of a right to the city everyone, not just wealthy middle aged Monaco playboys! Got to provide sense of safety to allow a playful state of mind to run free. Ah yes, and stuff to play with, sand as well as water – and places to sit (for free) and watch others playing.

  11. Look to the past a bit. I am 68 years old. I grew up in inner city Chicago in large apartments in large apartment buildings. We played on the sidewalks and sometimes in the alleys. Once and a while there were playgrounds at the end of our blocks in the older neighborhoods where we lived. We could walk to everything.

    I have been living in Portland OR for the past 40 years. What I see today is large apartment buildings being built with tiny micro apartments not at all conducive to families living in them. They are very expensive. Why are there not the large apartments of the type I was brought up being built? Those are being torn down for these new ones. Schools are being demolished and consolidated.

    Houses in the cities and the larger apartments that are left standing are not affordable for most families. They are being occupied by young adults who share the rent if they are rentals or by the more wealthy families who can afford to buy them if they are owned. Cities, at least mine, are not very inviting for average income families any longer.

    If you want to make cities more inviting for kids, they have to be made more affordable for parents.

  12. Great list and comments! Thanks to all.
    We live in Rome (Italy) and I would like to report what my 7 years old daughter told me are her wishes : grass in the street! The countryside downtown. No cars (or the minimum), always move by bike or on foot. That she would love.

  13. Where are the ideas for cities with harsher climates? Sidewalk swings are great when it’s at least 45 (F) degrees and sunny, but some of us live where it’s 20 F with at least six inches of snow on the ground for four months a year. Spending this winter cooped up with small children in my small urban flat has made a big house in the suburbs seem more appealing than ever.

  14. The Green Mama loves talking about kid-friendly cities, because, kid-friendly cities are people friendly cities. All of the comments on this blog are so thoughtful, smart, and beautiful as are the photos and ideas behind them. I second all of them: safe routes to schools, connected greenspaces, apartments designed for families, more streets designed for play, truly kid-focused bike (skateboard, rollerblade or whatever wheels) lanes. Another thing I have found having lived in a number of North American cities (Chicago and Vancouver) and in the developing world with children is that the “dumbed-down” American playground that Vancouver has taken to an extreme artform does children no favors. They are boring, they don’t challenge children, and they are no fun for parents or older kids and thus send the message that those groups should just go back inside. A good playground is fun–and challenging– for all ages.
    Thanks for sharing! Wanna do a playground blog together?