Sharjah: Sharjah’s integrated child-friendly approach to urban planning was showcased to a virtual global audience last week at the sixth edition of Biennale Spazio Pubblico 2021 recently held under the theme, ‘Children and public space’.
The three-day virtual event was broadcasted live from the Faculty of Architecture of the Roma-Tre University in Rome, Italy, and was attended by local and global public policy administrators, civil society organisations, architects, practitioners, and professionals involved with urban design and planning.
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As part of a presentation of international case studies, research, and projects, Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal, Executive Director of Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO), outlined Sharjah’s journey as the region’s first UNICEF-recognised Child-Friendly City and briefed the audience on Sharjah’s Child Friendly Urban Planning project which aims to stimulate and involve children and youth in shaping the future of the emirate’s urban landscape.
Conceived by SCFO, an affiliate of the Supreme Council for family Affairs in Sharjah, and the Sharjah Urban Planning Council (SUPC), in partnership with UNICEF and UN Habitat, the Child Friendly Urban Planning project calls for assimilating safe, playful, and stimulating everyday experiences in the emirate’s planning, design and management of projects, and addresses the needs of children by incorporating their ideas to create friendlier, healthier, and more inclusive spaces.
Speaking in a virtual webinar, Dr Hessa Khalfan Al Ghazal described how the Child Friendly Urban Planning project targeted children and youth of all ages, nationalities, and abilities, to integrate their ideas and solutions through guided discussions.
Using the ‘Block by Block’ model developed by UN Habitat, children aged nine to 11 years from different nationalities used the popular building game ‘Minecraft’ to illustrate creative ideas to transform the site of a planned public park. At an intensive two-day workshop held in 2019, 48 children including 20 girls, designed fences and boundaries for greater safety, pushed for greater green and shaded spaces, installed more lights and benches, and smartly planned the management of solid waste.
An Exploratory Walk was also organised for children and youth in the eight to18 age group to identify the area where the park would be built and to assess the context of the site in terms of comfort, accessibility, and safety.
Engaging 45 data collectors in the 20-22 age group under the Citywide Assessment initiative, young girls and boys assessed 230 open public spaces in the city of Sharjah to identify gaps in accessibility, safety, and inclusivity, among others.
The project results were shared at the first Global Summit for Child-Friendly Cities, held by UNICEF in Cologne, Germany in October 2019, as well as the World Urban Forum held by UN Habitat in Abu Dhabi in February 2020.
Dr Al Ghazal said: “SCFO’s participation in relevant global forums reflects the vision of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Her Highness Shaikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, to create urban spaces where children’s rights to a healthy, safe, stimulating, inclusive, and culturally rich environment are met and prioritised in decision-making processes.”
Dr Al Ghazal announced that the findings from the site-specific assessment, lessons learnt, outcomes, and recommendations based on Sharjah’s experience will be unveiled in the ‘Child Friendly Urban Planning Guideline’ to be launched by SCFO and SUPC later this year.