Early Childhood Matters: Transportation Planning and ECE

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Laurent Peignault

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Laurent Peignault

In the blog post, Julien Vincelot addresses the issue of how urban transportation can affect the quality of the experiences that shape the developing brain of the young child, both for good and for bad.

The author talks about the importance of transportation in accessing healthy food, healthcare, childcare, parks, play spaces, and other key early childhood services. Transportation modes also contribute to urban air quality. He notes, “For children under five, the top two causes of death are preterm birth complications and lower respiratory illnesses.”

Whilst “better walking and cycling infrastructure, widespread, affordable and safe public transportation, and low-emission zones benefit every urban dweller, including babies, toddlers, and the people who care for them”, they are not universally available. The conference set the following urban planning priorities to improve quality of life for young children:

  • 20-minute (or less) neighbourhoods for babies. “Shortening distances to key early childhood services is one of the best things a city can do for the healthy development of its babies and toddlers.”

  • Plan for the types of journeys made by caregivers, involving many stops to run errands and tend to the needs of the child. The recommendation to transport planners is to recognise “trips made while caring for others” as a distinct category.

  • Prioritise the routes and destinations most important to babies, toddlers and the people who care for them. An example of this is Andres Sevtsuk, at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who uses probability analysis to prioritise the routes most likely to be taken by people trying to reach a given set of destinations and has applied this technique to the routes that small children take to reach playgrounds in Cambridge, Massechusetts.

  • Design child-friendly streets that incorporate traffic safety and reduce air pollution. An example is the Global Designing Cities Initiative, which is working a Streets for Kids supplement to its Global Street Design Guide that provides technical guidance on designing streets that serve both as safer transport corridors and spaces for vibrant public life.

  • Create walkable cities. There are many reasons for making cities more walkable. For babies, toddlers, and caregivers, walking is free, good exercise, and predictable, thereby reducing stress, as well as offering opportunities for children to experience interesting sights, sounds, and interactions.

  • Make travel fun. City dwellers can spend hours a day in transit, so initiatives to improve the travelling experiences, for example Urban Thinkscape https://www.google.com/search?q=Urban+Thinkscape&rlz=1C1CAFB_enCA724CA724&oq=Urban+Thinkscape&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l2.4967j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 in Philadelphia, create opportunities for caregiver/child interaction en route.

  • Regulate cars in places where small children spend the most time. A number of cities have established, or are considering, partial or even permanent bans on cars in the city centre. A starting point could be in areas where babies and toddlers spend the most time, like the play streets near schools and in neighbourhoods filled with families, for example in London, UK https://www.londonplay.org.uk/content/30290/our_work/recent_work/play_streets/play_streets

For more ideas download the Urban95 Starter Kit Ideas for Action https://bernardvanleer.org/app/uploads/2018/05/Urban95-Starter-Kit.pdf The toolkit contains a wide range of ideas, from public policy initiative to easily-implemented, low-cost projects such as:

  • Pop-up Play: Mobile containers of books, toys and games for small children, along with movable benches and chairs that can be easily towed by bicycle or car.

  • Urban Stories: Stories disseminated throughout the urban environment as murals, art installations and sculptures.

  • Behavioural Prompts: A set of key messages and caregiving behaviours to promote, positioned in the public realm (e.g. on walls, in markets, on billboards, on product packaging).

  • Temporary Play Streets: Closing a network of streets at regular intervals allows people of all ages to have a safe public space to play, meet, and be active.

  • Opening Public Facilities Out of Hours: Placing play facilities within existing public facilities, such as schools or healthcare centres. These places tend to be trusted by caregivers and have a maintenance and security structure. Opening them longer increases opportunities for gathering after work, reducing parental stress related to limited time and space for play.

  • Storytelling in Public: Storytelling is one of the best ways to improve language development, and is a medium to improve social and emotional bonding between caregivers and children.

  • Nature Takeover: Turning unused or dilapidated infrastructure into community gardens, small parks or natural playgrounds increases space where children can play and families can meet.

  • A Tree for Every Baby: A way to increase tree coverage could be to plant a tree for each newborn, prioritising the neighbourhood where the child is born.

  • Merging Green and Play Spaces: Park design that integrates play or playground design on natural elements fosters better development for young children.


The toolkit includes background information on costing, maintenance, government involvement, minimum scale, and existing implementation for each of the suggestions. Larger scale projects include ideas such as Children Routes, shown above. Marking children’s daily routes with colours and playful elements can help improve their mobility and positively impact car driver’s awareness. These routes typically connect residential areas with schools, playgrounds and parks.

As well as detailed breakdowns of ideas and how they can be implemented, the guide discusses how to start conversations, with timed suggestions on how to:

• Identify your favourite ideas

• Reach out to those who like them too

• Organise an informal lunch or a brainstorming session

• Facilitate a workshop

The toolkit has been formatted so that individual elements can easily be used as flash cards, wall posters, a PowerPoint presentation, a workshop agenda, individual idea pdfs, or case studies.

Nelli Agbulos