When the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child met for its first formal session in September/October 1991, it highlighted the general principles that were to help in the interpretation and guide the implementation of the Convention. The four principles are 1. Non-Discrimination, 2. The best interests of the child, 3. The right to survival and development, 4. The views of the child.
In 2015, the role of public spaces received unprecedented recognition by including a target in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, SDG 11 target 7, which commits to “Provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities”.
Public spaces can have different roles and can be used in a variety of ways by all the segments of the population. Yet, they are often referred to as “the poor man’s living room” as they have particular importance for marginalized and vulnerable groups, especially children. In spite of being open and accessible in theory, most of these public spaces end up being sites for discrimination, unsafety, and exclusion, especially for the most vulnerable groups such as children.
Do public spaces currently play an important role in promoting inclusion, especially for the most vulnerable groups such as children? Can Placemaking support enhancing the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Placemaking is both a philosophy and a process:
Placemaking is a participatory approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. It involves both looking carefully at a place, and observing and listening to the people, who live, work, and play there, all in an effort to discover their needs and aspirations. This information is then used to create a common vision for the place with the aim of creating a good public space that promotes a community’s well being and social inclusion.
The answer to the question on how Placemaking can contribute to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child lies in how Placemaking can give a practical dimension to the four general principles:
As expressed in Article 2:1 “States parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, poverty, disability, birth or other status.”
Placemaking creates inclusive places that aim to reduce discrimination and social tensions among segregated communities. The concept of inclusive public spaces does not only mean designing a place that can include different community groups but also how to involve these groups in planning and designing these spaces in ways that lead to social inclusion.
2. Best interests of the child
Children need special support to be able to enjoy their rights fully as formulated in Article 3:1. “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institution, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Placemaking promotes good governance and improves the awareness of local authorities and communities on the importance of ensuring the participation of all community groups especially the most vulnerable ones such as children. Peacemaking helps bridging local actors and encourages them to work collectively for the best interest of the child and his right to have safe and child-friendly places within the city.
3. The right to survival and development
It is the most directly related to children’s economic and social rights and it is formulated in Article 6:2 and states that: “State Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”.
Placemaking highlights the importance of public spaces as drivers of social and economic development, enhancing safety and security and favoring social interaction. Placemaking promotes good public spaces that improve the physical and mental health of children by encouraging physical activity, reducing stress and providing a calming environment.
4. The views of the child
The principle is formulated in Article 12:1 which states that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
As a people-centered approach, Placemaking involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions to people to discover needs and aspirations. Often, children are the main participants in the community within the Placemaking process and thus highly contribute to envisioning public spaces. Children naturally tend to better express their views and interests in relation to public spaces and thus it is crucial and logical to listen to and respect their views.
The Placemaking experience in revitalizing public spaces as a collaborative community process, allows the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to materialize in a physical space where it can be implemented and more importantly foster social inclusion. Improving access to good public spaces for the most vulnerable urban residents is a powerful tool to improve equality, promote inclusion and combat discrimination.