(Re)Thinking cities through the eyes of young children
Rita Campos – CES-UC - Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra. Portugal
As more and more humans move from rural to urban settings, there's a growing scientific interest related to the impacts and benefits of urban green spaces on humans. Evidence shows a positive relation between urban biodiversity and health, well-being, quality of life and social interactions. Urban green spaces are important parts of the urban ecosystem. In times of rapid climate change, larger green spaces, in particular, offer solutions for dealing with extreme heat waves, debacles or floods. Additionally, these "urban forests" are also spaces that promote a first contact with the natural environment, and the local biodiversity, and consequently motivate informal environmental learning. Many of these spaces also have a high historical and cultural value, helping to build the identity of the city and their inhabitants. Thus, research results highlighting the positive impacts of urban green spaces should be used to inform decisions in city planning. But what really matters to preschool children when planning urban settings? Young children are actors usually excluded from political decisions and also from many science communication projects. However, participatory science communication models can help to connect their everyday life with both local policies and science-related content, empowering them in agenda-setting. Using a participatory approach for engagement, combining visual methods and storytelling, we aimed at understanding what preschool children prefer in the city landscape so that their interests can be included in urban development and foster the inclusion of children in the designing and planning of their environment. Results show how young children envision a "better city" and how that construction sometimes defies current scientific data. It further illustrates how science communication can be used to produce new knowledge on issues that usually exclude the targeted public - preschool children - and that contributes to the debate about people' needs and perceptions and science-based options.
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