Born Thriving: Case Studies in Neighborhood Planning
This series of case studies explores landmark neighborhood planning projects with a special focus on their political context, rationale, and results to date, as well as how they support the health of young children and their caregivers.
Our work is to rapidly convert cities into places whose systems nurture human life. An important facet of this work is to share information and analyses of such experiments with a broad audience, from practitioners, advocates, and zealots, to newcomers who are curious or concerned about the future. These cases are one part of “Born Thriving,” a suite of publications created to mainstream infant, toddler, and caregiver-focused neighborhood planning in Tirana, Albania
All of the cases here repeat some essential themes. We see the economic benefits of walkability, the importance of decision-making directly with children, and the need for engagement at multiple levels: policy, city-wide planning, neighborhood planning, and community activism.
Playweb Plan: Integrating Play and Children’s Mobility into Neighborhoods, Antwerp, Belgium
Antwerp’s “playwebs” show how prioritizing children’s health in neighborhood planning not only improves access to play, but contributes to larger mobility goals within a city-planning agenda that strives to move away from car dependency. Antwerp’s play-space
plan has created car-free, cycling- and pedestrian-oriented routes in neighborhoods in a network across the city. Although elements of municipal politics in recent years have pushed for pro-car policies, a nonpartisan municipal agency, Youth Service, has been able to sustain play space planning initiatives and has been able to endure changing political climates to promote pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure.
Superilles: Politics Change, a Vision Endures, Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona’s urban mobility infrastructure is being transformed through a novel use of the city’s hallmark square grid plan. Originally proposed as a strategy to reclaim the streets from cars in the face of growing congestion and pollution, the superilles (superblock) project has at times become the object of a tug of war between political parties wanting to claim ownership of it. Barcelona en Comú, the city’s current municipal
party, has sometimes struggled to implement expansions of the project in the face of political resistance, but ground-up participatory planning has proven effective in fighting misconceptions, and completed blocks have won approval from many resident communities. The superblock project shows what happens when a large-scale urban intervention becomes over-politicized, and how planners and designers can respond in ways that prioritize the well-being of resident communities across decades of changing political mandates.
Play Streets: Residents Promoting Public Play Space, London, UK
This is the story of a grassroots, parent-led initiative that transformed into a nationwide movement to transform city streets into play spaces. The streamlining of street closures for play at the level of federal policy was brought forth through a combination of pressure applied to government, and training and engagement with resident
groups. These efforts generated widespread public willingness to protect streets and public spaces for children. The play-street movement in the United Kingdom has been successful in using low-cost and simple interventions to impact children’s lives, ensuring that this impact is sustainable by integrating play-street closures into the culture of neighborhood streets and residential communities.
The Twenty-Minute Neighborhood, Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne’s recent urban planning initiatives offer an inspiring example of how a city originally planned around the car is building a new vision of its urban future in the face of a sustainability crisis. Worsening traffic congestion and air pollution have steered the Victoria State Government toward a new idea: the twenty-minute neighborhood, an urban planning concept that emphasizes “living locally” and strives
to ensure that almost all of residents’ daily needs—primary and secondary schools, fresh food, social services, and parks—can be accessed in a twenty-minute round-trip walk. After completing several pilot projects, the initiative developed a series of recommendations that emphasize a coordinated whole-of-government approach, performed by a broad coalition of ministries and agencies, for ensuring careful implementation and long-term sustainability.
The Fifteen-Minute City, Paris, France
In early 2020, Paris en Commun, the campaign group working to reelect Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, released a manifesto that made an important pledge for Paris’s planning future: the fifteen-minute city (ville du quart d’heure). In Hidalgo’s vision for Paris, all services and amenities necessary for daily life would be concentrated in each neighborhood. Proposed as both a greening strategy to improve the city’s climate resilience and a means of improving quality of life, the plan is a culmination of a series of ambitious and successful sustainable-mobility initiatives since the beginning of Hidalgo’s tenure in 2014. But that’s not all it promises to be: rather than simply a new take on city planning, the fifteen-minute-city concept is a formula for changing the experience of time in the city, and forming a new relationship to city life and its rhythms. In an interview
with Qendra Marrëdhënie, Hidalgo adviser Carlos Moreno, who developed the project, argued that “time is the new notion of urbanism in the next two decades, because time, in general, has been lost as urban life has become more hectic.” Yet as the fifteen-minute city promises to transform quality of life for the residents of Paris proper, the question of how these benefits can be extended to the city’s immediate suburbs, where Hildago does not have jurisdiction, remains a challenge. What is clear is that not extending the plan risks exacerbating existing neighborhood inequities between the inner city and its suburbs. The fifteen-minute city is a rich experiment that will soon unfold with Hidalgo’s reelection, and when it does, it will have to confront and respond to the challenges that have come to define twenty-first-century planning.
Green City, Clean Waters Program: Green Schoolyards For Stormwater Management, Philadelphia, USA
This is a story of a schoolyard greening initiative established in the context of funding limitations and a lack of neighborhood play space. Inconsistent financial support from the Philadelphia School District has meant that schools rely heavily on volunteer support to maintain these school parks. The project was initiated and has been sustained by grassroots organizations,
school communities, a patchwork of local government funding, philanthropy, and NGOs. Facing declining revenue and aging water infrastructure, Philadelphia instituted their Green City, Clean Waters initiative as an affordable way to manage stormwater runoff. One of its projects sought to transform asphalt schoolyards into green public spaces. The initiative allowed for both stormwater management and improved access to quality play space for children.
The Healthy Connected City, Portland, USA
Portland was the first city in the United States to develop a plan for countering global warming, in 1993, and has since been successful in reducing its per capita emissions rate by investing in and incentivizing light-rail transit, cycling, and walkable neighborhoods. Portland also boasts the highest bicycle modal share of any other city in the country. But at only 6.5 percent, it still pales in comparison to that of many European cities and points to the magnitude of work left to be done.
Since 2012, the city has been refining a plan to transform urban development toward more walkable, mixed-use, and green neighborhoods. Now in the thick of its implementation, city planners and developers are confronting challenges common to many US cities: retrofitting landscapes of unmitigated postwar sprawl proves expensive and difficult, and ensuring that these retrofits do not reproduce inequities is equally so. The city’s policies and actions that seek to confront these challenges are likely to serve as a model for US cities pursuing similar walkability retrofits in the coming years.