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Children in the city: How child-friendly are urban spaces?

14 December. 2023

Children having an outdoor session of learning through play!
Children having an outdoor session of learning through play!

Sai and I were speaking about how temples are a safe space for children the other day. We’ve had multiple such conversations about how safe spaces in the city are for children. This article is a result of that.

Of course, temples are a space for inner peace and spiritual growth. But as children, we visited it because duhh! We had to. Appa, amma took us. Or it was a fun family outing in itself to some far-off city that we went to by train or bus. And only as we adult, we make that personal choice on whether or not we go to temples. But what do temples mean to children apart from the religious side of things?

Going to the temple gives me peace and keeps me calm” - 8th grade student

We go to the temple to pray, and when we have difficulties, and we forget all our worries when we enter there – 7th grader

Both these children unanimously said the temple is not a space to play, but nevertheless we like going there.

Some younger kids said they go to the temple because their parents take them, some of them like it, some of them don’t.

Where we are heading towards in this article is how urbanisation has led to a lack of safety in the city, especially when it comes to children. No parent can send their child confidently out on the streets anymore. Vehicles, traffic, injuries, and what not?

 In that sense, temples go beyond their primary function to provide a safe space for social gathering and a conducive place for children to gather. No, we are not saying go ahead and draw hop-scotch boxes and hop all the way. Neither is this about man-made parks for children built around temples. But it is about this: Take, for instance, the Dodda Basava temple atop bugle rock. The journey to the temple is itself one that is engaging, and fun for children. A few metres away there are natural rock slides and lots of natural phenomena (especially the flying fox bats) to observe. Given the temple, the area in its near vicinity is also safe.

One step beyond play is this whole concept of temples as a stage for children (and adults) to showcase their talents in traditional art forms. A Bharatanatyam performance at Chennai’s Mylapore temple or a rendering of Bhaja Govindam at Tirumala would be the #goals of many upcoming artists.

I also found this interesting research finding: ‘Children associated with temples emerged to be more cognitively competent than other two groups of children on both points of schooling.’ The other two groups were: religious families not intimately associated with temples, and families not near the vicinity of temples. Sadly, I can’t access it beyond the abstract :(

If the same goes for sacred spaces of other religions, feel free to mention it in the comments below. But yes, temples aren’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of activities for children. So, let’s go to a mall, shall we?

Given the metropolitan life, malls are usual hang-out spots for friends and families. But are malls as child-friendly? Yes, they have play arenas, but it is for kids whose parents can afford it. And apart from that one space on the topmost floor of malls, the rest of the mall does not let the child be a child, says Sai. She recalls an incident where her son was chided for sitting on an escalator. I too recall being told to stop by the security when I was going down an Up escalator chumma for fun. That’s where the difference lies between temples and malls stresses Sai. Of course, all spaces have their own rules but a temple is inclusive for all and lets the child be a child.

How could I write about public spaces for children and not mention parks? And how can I mention parks without stating this transition: Back when I was a kid, I used to slide down a slide to fall into mud. It was fun. Now kids slide down to concrete. Even looking at that hurts my eyes. There’s something about soil and mud that makes the playing process fun and safer.

Don’t worry, I won’t go all criticism on parks. Both Sai and I agree that parks after all are the best public spaces for children to be completely themselves, explore, play, fall, tumble, run, make mistakes, and grow in the process. It is a space where they can test their range of physical motion and range of motion. A space where they get along with other children their age, and not their age, for a fun process of play.

However, the paths leading to the park, yet again, aren’t as accessible to the children. The roads aren't safe, but maybe that comes with the city? Maybe it doesn't need to?

And I would like to take the liberty to end this article abruptly because I don’t want to actually end it. I want it to be the beginning point of you to think how children-friendly are spaces around us.


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