21 Jun My City Too: Building a More Child-friendly Toronto
Cities should be built for everyone, including our youngest residents. An unsafe, inaccessible, hostile city is one where adults feel compelled to closely supervise children, to keep them out of harm’s way. But there is abundant research showing a high correlation between children’s physical, social, cognitive, and emotional well-being and their freedom to travel and play without adult supervision. In other words, when our cities are not child-friendly, we are compromising not only our children’s sense of fun and independence but also their health and development.
UNICEF’s 2017 Index of Child and Youth Well-being and Sustainability ranked Canada 25th out of 41 peer countries, and our lack of outdoor, child-led play (or “free play”) and independent mobility contributed significantly to that ranking.
Studies show that outdoor free play and independent mobility are interconnected: when children are able to walk, bike, or take transit on their own, they are more likely to play on their own, too, learning important skills by creatively exploring boundaries, following instincts, and getting to know themselves, which then correlates with better adolescent mental health, physical health, and sense of connection to community.
Much of 8 80 Cities’ work over the last 12 years has been on promoting a safe, accessible, engaging public realm that allows people of all ages, including children, to travel safely and independently. We believe that if a street is not safe for a child to cross on their own, it’s not a safe street for anyone.
Last fall, we came together with Earth Day Canada to launch My City Too, joining our expertise in mobility with theirs in play, and focusing on our shared home city of Toronto. My City Too is supported by Green Communities Canada and UNICEF Canada, and funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Over the winter, we reviewed academic studies and policy documents from around the world and interviewed experts and leaders in the field to learn about best practices, existing data, and where there are gaps for Toronto.
Since the spring, we’ve been speaking with caregivers and children across the city about their experiences, perspectives, and barriers. We also have an online survey for parents and caregivers of children under 12. And earlier this week, we convened dozens of Toronto organizations working with children, play, mobility, and/or health, whether in a frontline, policy, planning, or funding capacity, to discuss challenges, resources, and opportunities to promote outdoor free play and independent mobility.
This fall, My City Too will incorporate all this information into a report outlining a strategy to advance independent mobility and outdoor free play as cornerstones of a child-friendly Toronto. We are also building a network of experts, advocates, community members, and decision-makers to meet, connect, and work together on our shared goals of creating a better city for children, and therefore a better city for all. If you would like to join our efforts or learn more, please get in touch at [email protected].