Canaries in the Coal Mine: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities

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Saturday 20th March 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 269: Canaries in the Coal Mine: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Tim Gill

TOPICS: For too long, we have neglected children’s independent mobility. Author and play expert Tim Gill expounds on the theory that children are the canaries in the coal mine — if cities don’t work for children, they don’t work for anybody.


Urban Playground by Tim Gill

Rethinking Childhood blog.

Graphic by PlayMeetStreet North Tyneside/Brightwayz/Playongout


Carlton Reid 0:14
Welcome to Episode 269 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was uploaded on 20th of March 2021.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
I’ve got two themed episodes back to back for you. And they’re both about play or the lack thereof. Children’s play that is. Hi, I’m Carlton Reid. And on the first of these two themed episodes, I talked to author and child’s play expert Tim Gill. On the next show I go hyperlocal with Tyneside academics, Alison Standing and Sally Watson. But today’s hour long show is more international in scope, as Tim cites international best practice from the US, Belgium and Israel, as he warms to his theme that for too long, we have neglected children’s independent mobility.

Carlton Reid 1:51
On today’s show, I’ve got Tim Gill, Tim, I’ve been hearing and talking about Tim and writing about Tim for an awfully long time. And I’ll bring him in a second. But I’ll just I’ll just tell him that I did a book, I can’t remember when it was many, many years ago. And it was a children’s bicycling book. And a large section of that was about risk and why it’s far, far better to, to get out on your bike rather than you know, wrap your child in, in bubble wrap, and never get them out there. And I quoted extensively from Tim’s earlier book. So before we start talking about your new book, Tim, which we will do, tell me about the risk element of that first book and why it’s far better to, as I said, to get out there, doing stuff, climbing trees, doing childlike things, rather than just sitting there massively protected.

Tim Gill 2:56
So, ell, that’s a lovely introduction, because there’s a nice link between the two, which we’ll maybe explore but my first book, so it’s called no fear growing up in a risk averse society, you can download the whole thing for free as a PDF from my website. So yeah, I’ve no pecuniary interest in in it any longer. But essentially, it makes the case that part of a rich and healthy childhood is for children to, to learn how to deal with uncertainty, to have experiences that help them to prepare for the everyday ups and downs of life. And that indeed, if we try too hard to protect children from all possible harm, however well meaning that maybe we actually do them a disservice we, we prevent them from having the kind of experiences that help them on that journey to becoming a, you know, resilient, confident, capable, independent person. So that’s really at the heart of No fear. And I just have signpost a little bit. It’s, it’s, it’s the sort of planning and design dimensions of that line of thought that you can see coming out in Urban Playground.

Carlton Reid 4:16
Which is your new book. I don’t want to go too personal, but I just want to find out your kind of family background because that would that would I’m sure colour everybody’s picture here of, of maybe where you started this research from originally, but what what, what kids who do have kids?

Tim Gill 4:33
Yes. Okay. So, first of all, you know, I’m in my 50s, like almost everybody from around the world with whatever class you choose. I enjoyed a lot of freedom in my childhood. And those experiences are still resonant to me and I feel that they were, you know, an important part of, you know, who I am today

Tim Gill 4:56
in ways that, you know, maybe not always immediately obvious. I’m also

Tim Gill 5:00
Dad, and my daughter is in our in her early 20s. And kind of coincidentally, she came along a couple of years after I fell into a weird job with a quirky outfit called the children’s play council back in the mid 90s. And, you know, I would be lying to you, if I said that I have always been passionate about children’s freedoms and child development and health and well being. That is not how my career has unfolded, I landed in this job, for various reasons that the need and trouble is here. But and it was a part time two year fixed term contract. But the the issues got under my skin, I just found it really fascinating to, to think about how children’s lives have been changing, and in particular, their their freedoms and their opportunity to play and get around. And then when my daughter came along in 1998, you know, the whole topic got rather more personal and important, and that, I guess, relationship between the personal and the political has stayed with me.

Carlton Reid 6:02
I’m imagining you, you know, the Spartan thing of, you know, leaving a child out on the rooftop to see if they’re going to survive the night, in other words, but in the modern equivalent, right, like chucking her up trees. So what kind of child did your daughter have? Were you, were you exposing her to risk to kind of like, as part of your petri dish of this is what children should be like, How were you dealing with that aspect of parenthood?

Tim Gill 6:27
I really, I really hope not. I mean, that’s, I think I’m not a particularly you know, adventurous person in many ways. You know, I mean, I like going for walks and off road biking and stuff. But, you know, the idea of jumping out of a plane leaves me, like, rigid with fear. And more to the point, I guess, I, I always used to talk about balance, and, and being, you know, balanced and thoughtful. That’s, that’s the approach I was aiming for. And I absolutely did not want my daughter to feel like she was some kind of weird experiment in, you know, in backwards, child rearing? No, I think and bear in mind, you know, this was back. This was pre, almost pre internet of certainly pre social media. So, you know, back then you could kind of

Tim Gill 7:18
you, as a parent, I didn’t feel like my every decision was under the microscope. And I think that’s a really big difference with with parenting today. Or, you know, over the last five or 10 years. So, you know, Rosa started walking to school when she was eight or nine. You know, we had adventurous holidays with her. I remember, when she was 11. She, we were on a big trip to Scandinavia in a camper van, and one afternoon, we let her go back to the campsite on her own on a bike and she got lost. And it took her about three times as long as he should have done. You know, though, that these are

Tim Gill 7:57
I don’t think we were we were throwing her into the woods in the middle of the night that we were recognising that. There’s firstly there’s no such thing as a zero risk childhood. And secondly, that some of the times when we learn the most are the times when we make mistakes, when as adults and as children and when we get a little bit outside of our comfort zone. So that was certainly part of, of of our thinking with with bringing up our daughter.

Carlton Reid 8:27
You brought up your daughter I think if I’m if your website is still up to date in Walthamstow?

Tim Gill 8:33
Yes, that’s right where I still live.

Carlton Reid 8:34
So Walthamstow is famous in cycling circles. I mean, I’ve had Clyde Loakes, the deputy leader on at least twice perhaps more, talking about the the incredible changes that have happened probably while you’ve you’ve lived there. So tell me a bit about Walthamstow maybe how it’s changed while you’ve been there and and tell me if it’s better.

Tim Gill 8:57
Right, Walthamstow has changed for the better. I won’t take a whole load of credit for that. I’ve been on the sort of periphery of some of the local debates, which as you know, have been quite, quite vociferous and at times really unpleasant. But, you know, it’s a Victorian suburb, like, a lot of parts of the sort of, you know, Victorian fringes of London and some of England’s other cities, terraced housing.

Tim Gill 9:29
And, you know, it’s always been a sort of scruffy place and but in the last five or 10 years, it has, I think, just because of the mechanisms of the London housing market become somewhere more desirable to live. So we’ve seen,

Tim Gill 9:43
you know,

Tim Gill 9:45
a shorthand would be a form of gentrification. I think that’s slightly overstating it, but certainly, you know, significant numbers of more wealthy people moving in and greater concern for the quality of, you know, streets and public spaces.

Tim Gill 10:00
And then again so slightly, one of these quirks of fate that Boris Johnson came along with his his largesse and the mini Holland programme and the Waltham Forest bid was successful, and it has made a huge difference to significant parts of the borough, it’s, you know that the traffic levels are much lower.

Tim Gill 10:22
In within the, I guess what you’d now call the low traffic neighbourhood areas, much higher levels of cycling. And, you know, hardly a day goes past now, and I don’t see at least two or three people riding around on cargo bikes, which and you’ll know how unusual that would have been even two or three years ago in London.

Tim Gill 10:40
Now that it’s complex, and I can see some people there are some people are very angry about the changes, there are some things that, you know, had I been closer to the action I might have said, Well, maybe you could do things a little bit differently. But by and large, I think a Walthamstow is rightly being held up as a model of the, the, you know, the transformational change that you can achieve if you get a better balance between the needs of car drivers and the needs of everybody else. And the only way you make things better for walking and cycling is by making it harder for car drivers. We know that you know that most people listening to this

Tim Gill 11:21
podcast will know that but I think many Holland programmes show you just how much better it can be. And maybe also has some some lessons for how you can take these projects forward in, in in ways that build consensus.

Carlton Reid 11:35
And again, I don’t want to get too personal and geolocate you exactly but do you live in one of these newer low traffic neighbourhoods?

Tim Gill 11:45
Not quite, no, I live on about five minutes walk from what’s sometimes called Walthamstow village.

Tim Gill 11:54
But in a sort of reasonably leafy part of this borough. And I guess one of the interesting things about Waltham Forest is that as well as the mini Holland programme, it has also supported some, you know, really progressive improvements in public space and parks and play areas, it’s got some of the best local players, I think in London.

Tim Gill 12:17
It’s a strong supporter of Play Streets, which you’ll know I you know, this sort of model of just closing the traffic for for maybe a couple of hours a week or even a couple of hours a month, so that people can come out and enjoy the streets. So it will it’s there’s a lot of good things happening in the bar that I can see right outside my door more or less, even though I’m not part of

Tim Gill 12:41
the mini Holland area, you know, in its narrow sense.

Carlton Reid 12:47
OK, you mentioned play Streets that I was going to go down this one, this this cul de sac straightaway, but as you mentioned it I mean, famously, the UK had permanent place streets, not just you know, two, three hours a week plays reads, but they had, I mean, there was there was there was there was parliamentary acts to actually create Play Streets in the UK. And you can look at the photographs of there’s certainly a where I live in Newcastle.

Carlton Reid 13:16
And you look at the photographs of what they used to be like, and there’s these these little posters up saying, you know, this is a play Street and you couldn’t even cycle down these play Streets. So tell us more about the history of that and what happened and why they disappeared.

Tim Gill 13:33
Right. It’s it’s a really interesting question. And and so there’s a sort of slightly hidden narrative in my book that I hope I might one day be able to, to unpack some more, which is that you could say that the history of urban planning, certainly residential urban planning, over the last 100 years or so has been a kind of battle between children and cars. And for the most part, the car has won. And that’s beginning to change. But I think play streets were one of the expressions of that battle right there. You’ll know they emerged, I think, after the First World War is during that first wave of the growth of the car, as a direct reaction to traffic danger. You know, typically groups of mums coming together and saying is outrageous that, you know, the streets where we live, which used to be where our kids can play safely, have become dangerous places because of all these cars and we need to do something about it.

Tim Gill 14:32
And you know, we’re now scholars, Alison Stanning who, who’s up your way in Newcastle is doing some great research on this. And it’s showing the extent to which families and particularly mothers were were were pushing back against the creeping domination of the car.

Tim Gill 14:54
And so the new place street model which has emerged in the last 10 years or so,

Tim Gill 15:00
I mean, in many ways, it’s much more modest. It’s really it’s just saying, Oh, please, car drivers just stop driving up our street for a couple of hours a week out of the, you know, 120 or how many however many hours there are, so that we can come out of our front doors and, and play and socialise. But it is part of that pushback, I think, and of that kind of reappraisal

Tim Gill 15:29
of the one has for much of the 20th century and the early 21st century been a kind of settled position, which is that streets of a cars there for cars to move along and ever cars to park in, and nobody else has a look in. And so that’s why I’m one of the reasons I’m so interested in, in play street is because they they’re actually a comparatively low cost bank zero cost low barrier to entry.

Tim Gill 15:56
Way to make visible and, and give people a taste of what streets and neighbourhoods could be like, if we open them up for social uses, like play, and even just meeting and chatting.

Carlton Reid 16:13
Absolutely. And, of course, you’re talking to a kindred spirit here because I wrote a whole book on on this Roads Were Not Built for Cars. And you know, roads were had multitude of uses throughout history, and they’ve just become mono-use. And nobody can imagine, you know, the use of roads or anything other than the motorcars. So there is a there is a sentence in your book, and it jumped out to me for that reason, probably. And that is and I quote to you, and I love this.

Carlton Reid 16:41
“Children need to be seen to be a legitimate road user group,” because they’re not are they? They are absolutely not, they are seen to be interlopers.

Tim Gill 16:54
I think it’s probably worse than that.

Tim Gill 16:58
Certainly, for highway engineers, they are often objects of terror,

Tim Gill 17:03
not because of the harm that they can do, because of course,

Tim Gill 17:07
children Yeah, even if they try really, really hard, they’re actually not very capable of doing serious harm, but because of, you know, what might happen if if the highway engineers get things wrong. And so children, you know, are seen as unpredictable

Tim Gill 17:22
way word stupid,

Tim Gill 17:25
just scary creatures, who can really mess up the ordered and tidy

Tim Gill 17:33
traffic flow plans of the highway engineer. And so either way that they are kind of basically to be taken out of the picture. And again, in my book, I write about how the playground the public play area was invented as a way of taking children out of the picture of streets, there was a straightforward problem for politicians and, and the,

Tim Gill 18:02
the men who are running the cities back in the early 20th century, which is all these cars were, were literally killing hundreds of children a year. And the the, you know, citizens were not very happy about it. So playgrounds were invented as a, quote, safe place to play that removed children or were supposed to remove children from, from from streets. In fact, it didn’t really work out that way. But it’s still sort of baked into a lot of the thinking of urban planning and transport planning that children do not have a claim of freedom of movement. They are essentially creatures who need to be corralled and put into different forms of reservations of, of which the playground is the most obvious and most depressing example. H

Carlton Reid 18:55
Mmm, so let’s get on to your book then. So we’ve mentioned it in passing Urban Playground. Now, it is the reason on the front cover. There is a bicycle and a kind of like a trailer on the back. But it’s not a bicycling book. So you’re on the podcast today is a bicycling podcast, but we’re gonna stress is not a bicycle. But there are there’s bicycling in there, because Cycling is is a key form of transport for children.

Tim Gill 19:23
Right. So at the heart of the book is a definition or a framework. What counts as a child friendly neighbourhood, a child friendly town, a child friendly city, okay, and that framework has two dimensions, or two aspects to it. One aspect is probably it’s reasonably obvious, which is that a child friendly neighbourhood is a neighbourhood where there’s lots of fun things for children to do. And so that would include playgrounds, you know, natural places, sporting facilities,

Tim Gill 19:56
but then there’s the other dimension and that dimension

Tim Gill 20:00
Is mobility is that a child friendly neighbourhood is a neighbourhood where it’s easy for children to get around, crucially, for children to get around under their own steam, you know, what the, the academics called children’s independent mobility. And again, you’ll know of all of the research on on that. And that means walking, cycling and scooting, right? Because heads up, children don’t have driving licences. If we want to make it easier for children to get around, we have to be talking about improving, walking and cycling networks and features and infrastructure. So that that runs that framework runs right the way through my book. And that’s why I’ve got, you know, quite significant sections in the book, talking about cycling, as well as walking. And, you know, there’s another sort of way of looking at this, if we take the time to ask children themselves, what they like and don’t like and what they’d like to change about the towns and cities where they’re growing up, then right at the top of the list is being able to get around more easily. And, and especially by bike children love cycling, they love being able to get around, but you know, what, it’s still one of the most resonant milestones in any child’s life is when they learn how to ride a bike. And know one of the the

Tim Gill 21:25
sort of, under, under explored tragedies, I think, of modern childhood, is how

Tim Gill 21:32
that the role of the bike has, has diminished so much, you know, when I was growing up, I grew up in sort of rural home counties of England, you know, I had, I could basically write as far as I liked, from about the age of 11, or 12, as long as I got back home in time for tea was on my, my horizons were unbounded. And, and I really do feel so sorry for children today, because so few children have anything like that

Tim Gill 22:05
opportunity, you know, to just get on a bike and ride. It’s, it’s just vanished from so many children’s lives. And, and yet, of course, if we look over the North Sea, the Netherlands, or Denmark, we realise that actually, this is not an inevitable consequence of modern life, it’s quite possible to build and design towns and cities so that children today have exactly that kind of freedom.

Carlton Reid 22:27
Is it not the case, though, that it’s not just the built environment, that that it is you hear and is a problem and an obstacle perhaps. It’s also the like the concept of stranger danger. So if you ask people why they don’t let their kids, you know, have the same freedom as you’ve just described, it’s not just because we’ll cars might kill them, which is clearly one. One great fear. It’s also this this deeply embedded fear of child abduction of of all sorts of horrible things that people imagine is going to happen if you let your child wander.

Tim Gill 23:05
In one sense, that’s true. I mean, of course, you know, we could argue about the statistics, and you’ll probably know that the statistics show that you’re at no greater risk of child abduction now than you were 20, 40 or 60 years ago,

Tim Gill 23:19
people don’t really pay too much attention to numbers when it comes to risk. And outside, I don’t tend to push that, that line of thought too much. I guess what I would say is that

Tim Gill 23:32
we live in places where car use is normalised and were anything other than car use, especially children travelling around independently is a bit weird. And, and and so we’ve lost confidence as a culture, in the safety of the world outside our front doors. And then that gets expressed in a kind of bogeyman narrative about all the scary things, especially the scary people who are waiting. But it’s not a realistic assessment of what’s actually happening. It’s the sort of sum of all our fears. And, and I think we’re beginning to wake up to that. And, and especially when, you know, we start to see how neighbourhoods can be different. So I think Waltham Forest actually is, is perhaps a little bit of an example, you do see children playing in the street, in part of Waltham stone now to a much greater extent than you used to. It wasn’t part of the plan for mini Holland, but it’s kind of inevitable. If you stop traffic, and you create quiet patches of street, then guess what kids come out and play. So I, I’m, you know if this is the hard thing to turn around, this is 120 years of baked in car centric planning, and all of the code

Tim Gill 24:59
Cultural consequences of that. And there are other changes as well that are important, you know, changes in family working patterns,

Tim Gill 25:09
greater growth and fear generally. They’re not they’re not unimportant, but I still believe that

Tim Gill 25:16
the, the way we build towns and cities effectively hardwires

Tim Gill 25:23
captive children and a car centric way of life. And that’s, that’s the fundamental. That’s that’s the, the,

Tim Gill 25:33
the, the fundamental thing we need to change.

Tim Gill 25:37
If we don’t do anything about that, then everything else is just hot air, I think, hmm.

Carlton Reid 25:42
Well, talking about hot air, I would now like to bring in my co host, David, who will take us through to an ad break.

David Bernstein 25:49
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Carlton Reid 27:15
Thanks, David. And we are back with with Tim Gill, who is the author of Urban Playground and the subhead to that is how child friendly planning and design can save cities. Now, interestingly, Tim, this book is published by RIBA. So you’re gonna be talking presumably to some pretty influential people who can make changes. So tell us what RIBA is and tell us how this book could potentially be influential.

Tim Gill 27:43
Okay, so RIBA is the Royal Institution of British architects. So it’s, you know, it’s the kind of the member organisation for architects, it’s pretty, you know, Royal is there for a reason, I guess. I’m not an architect. So I was quite flattered to be asked to write the book.

Tim Gill 28:01
And I’m also very happy because, I mean, I come at this as a kind of advocate and a campaigner of some, you know, but I’ve been at this for a fair few years. And, and I do

Tim Gill 28:16
strongly believe that, that the people who shape the built environment, so planners, architects, designers, and of course, the politicians who ultimately set the rules,

Tim Gill 28:28
they’re the people that we need to reach if we’re going to get healthier, more sustainable, and more child friendly towns and cities. So I was really delighted to be offered the chance to write the book by RIBA. And indeed, I am

Tim Gill 28:43
milking that connection for all it’s worth. So I’ll be doing some, you know, professional development talks for RIBA, I think, coming up in May.

Tim Gill 28:53
I’m liaising with, with

Tim Gill 28:57
people there about how we can get the word out.

Tim Gill 29:00
And, and I, I guess I wanted to be the book to be the kind of book that persuades there are there’s a significant pool of people out there who are quite interested in the idea of, of making neighbours more child friendly. There are quite a lot of people who’ve got a you know, a child development background or education or outdoor learning, play work, you know, people who support children’s play, they’re the converted if you like, and and I spend a lot of time with with a lot of people from that. Those sort of communities.

Tim Gill 29:33
But they’re not the people I want to reach with the book. The people I want to reach with the book are, you know, mayors, heads of planning, transport planners, and I want them to open the book and flick through and think Oh, what’s that picture in there for why are they Why is he got this graph y said that that amazing? map so figure 1.1, the map that shows you how the horizons of childhood have been shrinking over four generations. I that’s the kind of image I want.

Tim Gill 30:00
Pull someone in and, and then get them to think about, you know, maybe their own lives their own childhood, if they have children, what what’s going on for the the children they know in their life today, and then get them to to, to look at their own work and their own

Tim Gill 30:17
values, and they’re the way they do their job or make the decisions they’re making with a children’s lens in place. And my hope is that that will make them

Tim Gill 30:31
both realise the importance and the power of, of

Tim Gill 30:36
good, good urban planning for children, but also to see how thinking about children in urban planning and design is part of a move towards creating healthier and more sustainable places.

Carlton Reid 30:51
And you don’t want the people reading this book, who are going to be influencing the built environment and in the years to come to just go, Oh, well, we won’t, we will just put a wild playground in them. It’s not something just, you don’t want to corral kids, you want to do something else for kids?

Tim Gill 31:07
Exactly. So so there’s a key passage in the book, which goes something along the lines of, you know, in a sense, the goal of the child friendly planner or designer is to turn is to kind of turn the playground inside out, and to take all of those offers that could well be in place in a good playground. But, but make sure that the whole you know, that the whole of a neighbourhood where children are living growing up, allows them, you know, to play, to have contact with nature, but also to get around freely, and without the threat of traffic danger.

Carlton Reid 31:39
So in the book, there are there are an awful lot of case studies. And I’m presuming you’ve visited all of these cities you’re talking about?

Tim Gill 31:49
I visited most of them, I didn’t quite get to a few of them for various reasons. But I think there’s about a dozen cities in in

Tim Gill 31:58
as well as London, and I got to nine of them.

Carlton Reid 32:01
Let’s talk about two of them. And they have a good cycling resonance. So we can like we can, even though your book is not about cycling, we can talk about cycling in these, these the two cities that I’ll choose. So again,

Carlton Reid 32:14
again, I’ve done a Guardian article about Birmingham, you know, doing again, suffocation and and Ghent is now famous in transport circles for its circulation plan, which has done the same as well, from so many respects in that it created safe spaces for children to play. So tell me a little bit bit about Ghent and why it’s so significant or why you chose it for your book.

Carlton Reid 32:45
So, Ghent, in Belgium, live Ghent, in Belgium.

Tim Gill 32:49
Yes, it’s in Flanders. So it’s in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium and Flanders is a part of the world where, where the idea of child friendliness has taken some hold. So it’s got some profile within you know, planning. And local authorities

Tim Gill 33:06
kind of compete with each other to an extent to be labelled child friendly. And Ghent is generally seen as the most child friendly city in Flanders. And actually, there’s quite high public awareness of that it’s almost a badge of honour for the city. So that’s been in place for a fair while.

Tim Gill 33:25
And one of the one of the reasons I picked again, was was that there’s a team within the local authority. And this is a bit sort of geeky and bureaucratic, but he really matters, that there’s four people, least when I visited, whose job it is, to work with other departments, so that they do a better job for children. So these people, they will be alongside the planners who are planning a new development, you know, in a new part of the city. They’ll be working alongside the regeneration team, there’s a big regeneration project that I write about in the book

Tim Gill 34:00
in a rundown 19th century part of the city, very ambitious, you know, had

Tim Gill 34:09
a lot of careful work with residents and local groups to make sure that what was going on was was was right, you know, it was work for them and that they wouldn’t have, they wouldn’t be hostile to, to that. And again, children and thinking about children was woven into that project. There’s a lovely

Tim Gill 34:31
is a feature called the red carpet and it is literally a kind of red path that runs for a couple of kilometres through this part of Ghent that joins up different local squares and public spaces and schools and links into other parts of the city. And all that came about because at the political level, this idea of child friendliness has purchase. It has resonance

Tim Gill 35:00
And so the politicians, you know, are proud to say that Ghent is a child friendly city, and they put resources to, to give that some some meaning. And, and you’re right to mention the circulation plan is it had just not long been in place, I think maybe less than a year when I visited. And it was really striking how much of a difference it made to the city. And this is not, you’ll know this, but but listeners who don’t realise, you know, this, this is not just about a tiny bit in a kind of historic core of gains that might, you know, preserve the chocolate, the chocolate box bits that all the tourists visit, this was a really major transformational change in the way people get around the whole of this city of I think it’s about 300,000 people.

Tim Gill 35:50
And people were predicting, you know, chaos and the economy in all of the stuff that we know, happens in this sort of

Tim Gill 36:00
with this sort of scheme. And you know, the world did not end. And now, I think yeah, I think I read your I may have even quoted from it, or stolen one of the quotes from one of the people you Vox popped, people just say it’s great, no, of course there are some people will rule lose out. And again, your your podcast followers will know that there there is no way of

Tim Gill 36:23
improving things for walking and cycling, that doesn’t have an impact, a negative impact on car users, you can’t do it. It’s basic sort of spatial, spatial justice, really. But the changes that have come about in Ghent, including changes for children, more children walking cycling to school,

Tim Gill 36:44
much lower levels of child accidents, lower levels of pollution, are all

Tim Gill 36:52
absolutely in the direction that anyone would want to see and are particularly important for children and families.

Carlton Reid 36:59
And that red carpet idea look lovely that that absolutely was one thing that jumped out of your book. And I wasn’t aware of that when I was doing my Ghent piece for for The Guardian. Now, I had Gary Fisher, the mountain bike icon on the show recently, and he was telling me about Fruita, Colorado, which isn’t in your book, for fairly obvious reasons, but flew to Colorado and I’ve got to go and check this out and see if what Gary said it is it is kind of true. But he said … do you know what a pump track is?

Tim Gill 37:29

Carlton Reid 37:29
Okay. So he says there’s a bunch of interlinked pump tracks in Fruita, which in effect, allow, you know, a preteen, or a teen child to basically

Carlton Reid 37:44
take a pump track all the way from their, their house to school, because it’s just, you know, so it’s like a red carpet, but for for older kids. So using that concept is like, what, how do you define childhood, because what’s gonna be good

Carlton Reid 38:02
for toddlers and for for, you know, 678 year olds, is perhaps very different to what a preteen and a teen is going to want. And those those two user groups are going to be in conflict to each other. So how do you square that circle?

Tim Gill 38:19
Right. That that is a really good question. In the book, I use the UN convention as my sort of definition of a child. And so that’s anyone from the age of zero to 18. Now, in ordinary language that’s a bit clunky, because no self respecting teenager would would really recognise that word child as applying to them. And more to the point and And to your point.

Tim Gill 38:47
Some of the details are going to be very different for teenagers compared to you know, babes in arms, and, of course, that their parents and caregivers, and we need and planners need to be attuned to those differences. But actually, I still would argue and argue in the book that that basic framework, the framework I talked about, still applies. Teenagers still wanted to be able to get around their neighbourhood easily and freely. And you know, until such time as a few of them might get car licences, which is pretty late on in that process, and getting ever later. That really does mean walking, cycling, scooting and the like. And teenagers also want choice and different options as to where they can hang out and meet their friends. So the details of those choices are going to be a little bit different. And there is some potential for conflict although I I would argue actually the good let’s think about parks and parks and open spaces, a great Park and open a great public park

Tim Gill 39:50
should be a place where anyone of any age actually can chip up and can you know find things to do and places to hang out.

Tim Gill 39:59
out and linger and enjoy that space. And it’s not that difficult to come up with part designs that allow that to happen. Especially if you work with the different, you know, user groups. And teenagers are very vocal actually about what they like and don’t like about parks and public spaces. So one of the pieces of work that I quote in the book is from another city in Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, I didn’t actually make it to Boulder, I’d love to get there. But it has a very well respected youth participation project. So it does a lot of work, bringing in the voices of children, young people, including those groups that don’t often get a say, you know, black and minority ethnic youth, young women who are often ignored or downplayed, and, and bringing their voices into,

Tim Gill 40:53
in the example in my book, a quite high profile downtown public space. And you can point to features in that park, that have been put in because of what the young people were saying. And you can also see how though those features actually made that part work better for everybody. So, you know, there’s actually not that much conflict when it comes to to to,

Tim Gill 41:20
if you start from the point of progressive, human scale, sustainable democratic design, you know, you can get it right. For almost all of the time, I think.

Carlton Reid 41:33
So we talked about Ghent, we’ve even segued into Boulder, Colorado, and Fruita, Colorado. But let’s go back to another one of the cities that that you highlighted in your book, and as mentioned quite a few places, and that’s Tel Aviv. A lot of people in Israel might not associate Tel Aviv with progressive policies for children, but tell us tell us what’s been happening in in Tel Aviv

Carlton Reid 42:01
to make it progressive for children?

Tim Gill 42:04
So, Tel Aviv is possibly the city that that went furthest fastest in sort of picking up this idea of becoming more child friendly, and running with it and putting serious money behind it. So and it’s an interesting story.

Tim Gill 42:20
It the precursor is that back in the early 2010s 2011 2012.

Tim Gill 42:26
There were big protests throughout Israel, about from young families, families with young children about basically they’re having a really hard time cost of living cost of childcare, quality of childcare, there were some appalling tragedies involving young children dying in childcare settings, I’m really awful.

Tim Gill 42:45
And Tel Aviv was one of inevitably one of the kind of hotspots of that, because it is it’s Israel’s biggest city and most progressive in some respects. And then

Tim Gill 42:57
the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, who are an NGO that has embraced this, this idea of child friendliness, and it’s it’s got a programme called Urban 95, which invites everyone but city decision makers to see cities from a height of 95 centimetres, so as the average height of a three year old, it’s a really interesting initiative. And it’s worked closely with a number of cities, so it got a foothold in Tel Aviv.

Tim Gill 43:25
And the municipality, Tel Aviv Yafo municipality created a post and, and a bit of money and some momentum around the idea of making the city more child friendly, you didn’t really know what it was going to do. And one of the first things that the city did was take a bunch of these officers to Copenhagen, right, as I was there for this two day, you know, study tour, they went to the offices of Gehl Architects, and they saw a bunch of spaces. They spoke with the head of parks, I did a session with them around risk. And it it kind of blew their minds. I think I’m you know, I’m not being modest when I say that and and that group came back to Tel Aviv absolutely fired up about what the city could do. And as a result,

Tim Gill 44:19
you know, the whole of the municipality, sort of the relevant departments and teams sort of pivoted and started doing things very differently. So you suddenly saw, you know, sand pits springing up all over the city. Now, anybody who knows anything about playground design will know that councils get pretty nervous about sand pits, and there’s a whole load of risk aversion and, and unnecessary fears about that. But sand pits are actually great for kids, especially younger kids. Um, you also saw programming So you saw events, a new app being developed, it was aimed at children, with families with young children. And you saw also these wider conversations about how the

Tim Gill 45:00
city could become a better place for children to get around. And, and there’s, again, there’s a little bit of history, which you may not be aware of, I wasn’t, I must confess, before I went, but Tel Aviv has a history of, you know, links to progressive urban planning going back to, to get us and, you know, the actual founding of the city and, and, and it’s an it’s built form in the, in the interwar years. So and some of that has carried through. So for instance, the city.

Tim Gill 45:34
People live right downtown in Tel Aviv, it’s not one of those cities that that kind of got hollowed out in the 70s. With with, you know, the business districts or retail where nobody actually lived. So that means there’s now a pool of urban dwellers, and some of whom are having kids who are living right in the downtown of the city. And so that’s an opportunity as well, so that so you, you had a kind of combination of circumstances that led the city to be doing some really interesting work on the back of this vision of becoming a better place for children and families to live. And again, final point, Israel and Tel Aviv, both places with quite large populations of children and families with young children. So there was a demographic driver behind what was happening in Tel Aviv as well.

Carlton Reid 46:27
Yes, so somewhere with lots of kids, you’d be bonkers not to want to design for kids, you would think, but then say somewhere in the Cotswolds in the UK, which is

Carlton Reid 46:42
I might be summarising here, awfully here, but but doesn’t have many children. So what what kind of areas and cities that perhaps don’t have that large phalanx of kids to obviously want to design for why should they be doing or should they be doing anything at all?

Tim Gill 46:59
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think there are two sides to it. One. One is, it’s the point that, you know, Enrique Penalosa, makes so former mayor of Bogota, famously, you know, coined the phrase that children are an indicator species for cities. And I think that’s actually more than just a slogan, it’s, it’s true. So if you can get, you know, cities or neighbourhoods that work well, for children, they work well, for older people, for instance, you know, and again, this is in design and planning terms, older people, especially if they, as they

Tim Gill 47:35
started, you know, be less able to use cars,

Tim Gill 47:39
really dependent on good local walking and cycling, want to have nice places to parks and squares to visit, you know, within walking distance. So there’s a lot of overlap there. So, so thinking about children is a pathway to better design. On the other side of the argument, I think it’s maybe it’s a bit it’s longer term.

Tim Gill 48:03
But it’s it’s the kind of argument that some of the cities I looked at us, which is

Tim Gill 48:10
our long term prospects, as a city depend upon this being a place that families want to live in. Right. And I think that might have resonance in you know, Cotswold retirement visit villages.

Tim Gill 48:23
In really simple terms, if you don’t have families moving in, to your settlement to your patch, then your patch in 20 4060 years, is going to be at mortal threat, there will simply not be people living in it, that so they will not be an economy, they will not be services, they will not be people, you know, able to work, or available to do all the things that we know need to happen to keep

Tim Gill 48:53
human habitats ticking along. I know that’s might seem a little bit

Tim Gill 48:58
you know, sort of, it’s a more strategic and long term. Point. But it’s it precisely the point, for instance, that Rotterdam picked up on, on Rotterdam as a city, you’ll know I devote a whole chapter to it in my book, because it invested more in this agenda than any other city on Earth, as far as I can tell. And it did so because back in 2006, it became really clear that any families that had the resources were fleeing the city, because it was to put it bluntly, such a dump to bring up a child. And in particularly in the Netherlands, that is not an image that you want to have as a municipality. So, you know, it’s a long term argument. And part of what’s in my book, is that thinking about children, helps decision makers to think more and to position themselves more as looking to the long term looking to our collective future, including our response to the climate crisis. But that’s if I had a mayor of a costume

Tim Gill 50:00
town next to me right now, that is certainly one of the points I will be making and talking about matters.

Carlton Reid 50:05
And you mentioned Enrico Penaloza, who, of course, famously, I’m going to I’m going to paraphrase here slightly, but he said a cycleway is a symbol that shows a citizen on a $30. bicycle is equally important as a citizen and a $30,000. Car. Now his brother Gil did the foreword to your book.

Tim Gill 50:29

Tim Gill 50:32
And, you know, he is also the founder of the NGO 880 cities, which, you know, well respected international

Tim Gill 50:41
advocacy organisation that, again, it asks us to look at cities from the point of view of an eight year old and the point of view of an eight year old, and its messages, if we can get cities to work well, for those two age groups, then they will work well for everyone. And, and it’s, again, there’s a quote from Gil that you may have spotted inside the book, where he says we have to stop designing cities, as if everyone were 30 years old and athletic. And actually, I think that’s a really important message, particularly for the cycling world. And I’m conscious of now of some of your audience. I’m, by the way, I’m a long standing cyclist, I spent 10 years of my life commuter cycling through London in the 90s. You know, when it was, it was a lot harder than it is now.

Tim Gill 51:31
I, you know, I’m fully signed up member of the cycling fan club, but I do think cycling has planet cycling has a bit of a problem, which is probably what you’re familiar with, which is it can be it can be

Tim Gill 51:45
typecast, you know, stereotyped, as, you know, middle class white guys in Lycra shouting for, you know, for more stuff. And

Tim Gill 51:55
actually, the opposite is the case. Cycling is so important for so many groups who go beyond that demographic. But I think, for the cycling world to really build on the progress it’s made, which is impressive. It has to start changing the terms of this conversation, and bringing children to the conversation about cycling, I think could be an absolute game changer.

Tim Gill 52:19
And could really see cities that have up to now I’ve been kind of nervous about embracing cycling, start to invest much more time and money in it. And also, you know, that it’s pretty, you know, if you’ve got groups of children, actually in meetings, or in presentations, saying to the adults saying to the grown ups, why on earth, aren’t you making easier for me to cycle now it’s so obvious how much better he would be for everybody. If instead of 2% of, of kids cycling to school every day, it was 20% or 40%. If you had that direct expression of children’s wishes,

Tim Gill 53:01
in these debates about transport planning, I think it would it would make a huge difference. And the cycling world is really missing a trick by not talking more about children.

Carlton Reid 53:11
I was cycling with my son and my son is 22 now, and he’s actually come back from China. on his bike. he’s a he’s a procient cyclist, he’s probably that that demographic you just talked about a bit, you know, a young, Lycra-clad white male, we were cycling, in some of Newcastle called Jesmond where they’ve just put in City Council have just put in protected cycleways

Carlton Reid 53:36
alongside the road. So they’re not fully no segregated, not fully separated, but they’re, they’re protected on on certain junctions. And so my son was were riding along. And my son was complaining about them saying, Well, you know, I wouldn’t use that particular bit of infrastructure and look at this traffic light here. It’s just, you know, I wouldn’t stop there because I just go straight route. I said, Josh, isn’t, it’s not designed for you. It’s designed for kids, it’s designed for people who you you’re perfectly able to use the road, as is, you know, you you block, you know, people behind you, you’re, you’re in the middle of the road, you’re, you’re great, you’re fine. But other people aren’t gonna be like that. So this particular bit of infrastructure that you’re Pooh poohing

Carlton Reid 54:17
isn’t designed for you, it’s designed for the people who can’t do the things you do. So basically, you need more of that?

Tim Gill 54:24
Yes, absolutely. Yes. So again, in the book, I showcase the work of Vancouver. And it’s, you know, all ages and abilities, guidance on cycle infrastructure, which, which makes precisely that point that you, you need to make sure as far as possible that the the stuff you put in is stuff that you know, to steal from Chris Boardman that a 12 year old independent cyclists is competent to use. And, you know, I, I know that

Tim Gill 54:58
it comes back to this point.

Tim Gill 55:00
You know, sometimes it can be a bit irritating having to deal with younger children in the public realm, you know, children are not entirely predictable. They have a playfulness and you know, exuberance and kind of physicality. That means that, you know, that, that, that commuter cyclists that’s trying to, you know, beat their Strava record, on the commute home, might get a bit upset if they come across

Tim Gill 55:25
a five year old on on their first bike, but I hope that

Tim Gill 55:31
you know, in sort of calmness, and you know, once, once that cyclist has got home, they realise that actually really is in their interest to hear and involve children more and to get the people who shape our cities to be thinking more about children, because that way, we get, you know, more infrastructure, we get better infrastructure. And we also pave the way for the kind of long term future of cycling as a respected and strategic form of transport. And that is not going to happen, unless we can, you know, inculcate it in this generation and coming generations of travellers, which means children

Carlton Reid 56:18
Tim it’s been fascinating talk to you, thank you ever so much for taking the time. And let’s just find out where people can get hold where we you’ve said before, where they can get your No Fear book. But let’s first of all talk about where they can get this current book, Urban Pplayground, where can people buy this book?

Tim Gill 56:40
Buy it so it is available from good booksellers? It’s it’s absolutely available worldwide from the RIBA books online bookstore. So that’s Amazon has it? The Book Depository has it? I know several international booksellers have it online, there isn’t. There are different ebook versions available, you’ll need to go to the Taylor and Francis publishers website for the E book, at least for now. And you can find a bunch of information, including some samples on my website. So my website is And now I’ve put up a few blog posts about the book there. And I’m really keen, of course, for people to get hold of it, but also for people to tell me what they think of it. I know, I really put a lot of time and effort into making it as persuasive as I could. And I’m very keen to hear how it’s going down.

Carlton Reid 57:39
Well, I’m looking forward to Newcastle, my hometown changing in the future, because we have given too many trade secrets away here. But one of the main town planners, city planners, of Newcastle has your book. And I know that because I was talking to him the other day about something different as to why, why it came up about talking about your book, but we did we talked about your book, Tim, and and hopefully he’s going to be taking some of those policies. And he’s just as much blown away by the concepts in there that those people the Israelis you took, or you were in Copenhagen with?

Carlton Reid 58:15
Where to do stuff for Tel Aviv?

Tim Gill 58:18
Yeah, well, that’s good to hear. And, you know, I, I’ve had some nice feedback so far, including from exactly the audience’s that I was targeting. So you know, urban designers, Master planners, improve cities for children, you improve cities for everybody. Absolutely. And I think you also, you by talking about children, you can’t help but look more towards the future. And that long term future that where we know there are big challenges awaiting us. And you also can’t help but think in a more kind of collective way and think about the public good. So, again, this was a lesson from one of the cities that I visited from Boulder that, that by bringing in the voices of children, they in this project in the town centre, they helped to reduce the impact or the the negative impact of some of the vested interests in that project that were screaming for whatever it might be that was actually basically just about about them, and their their narrow concerns. And I think that ultimately, that’s, you know, that’s what I think we learn. If we look at Greta Thunberg, and her influence on the climate debate, it’s not that she’s a kind of, you know, it’s an identity politics thing. It’s her speaking with the authentic voice of somebody who has a massive stake in the long term, collective future of the planet. And I think that’s the most powerful catalytic impact of the bringing in the voices and views of children.

Carlton Reid 59:47
Thanks to Tim Gill there and thanks to you for listening to the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. Show notes and more can be found on On the next episode I’ll be talking about child’s

Carlton Reid 1:00:00
play and mobility with academics and campaigners, Alison Stenning and Sally Watson. Meanwhile, get out there and ride

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