The recent COP26 theme of youth and public empowerment reflects a growing belief that children and youth are here-and-now citizens capable of communicating their thoughts and ideas . Children’s perspectives and opportunities for them to express their ideas about their local environments is an important contributor to building resilient cities in the midst of our Climate Crisis. Children want to be heard and make a positive contribution to their communities [2-4], however, opportunities for children to participate in decisions that affect their lives have been largely overlooked by prevailing adult planning priorities and agendas in cities .
We need to meet Net Zero (meaning economies either emits no greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere or offset their emissions) but even if we do, there will remain a persistent need to build climate resilient communities. Increasingly, the ideas of adaptation and resilience have become buzzwords for concerned citizens, policy makers, and environmentalists. As the Environmental and Energy Study Institute explains “whereas ideas like sustainability and conservation focus on preserving a pristine world, resilience and adaptation focus on protecting people and ecosystems from the changes that are brought by a changing climate. This shift has occurred as individuals, communities, cities and regions have come to recognize the need to consider and prepare for the risks posed to their quality of life, infrastructure and physical safety by global warming” . Climate change is not just a problem for future generations - it is already here and requires action now.
To create and manage resilient cities requires citizens capable of engaging and adapting to an uncertain future. Pearson and Pearson’s definition of resilient cities brings attention to the role of individuals and collective action. They describe resilient cities as those where “everyone has a role, an idea, an insight and the ability to participate in delivering cities where our children will want to live, rather than those where they will have to work” [p. 247, 8]. This does not only mean the contributions of adult citizens - but also children and youth in delivering change.
Children’s participation can be an important contributor to resilient communities capable of adapting to emergent challenges. A deeper understanding of a community residents' everyday lived experiences - including the experiences of children - can support local government efforts to identify vulnerabilities and assets, and in turn respond to local challenges. According to Magis, children’s participation in inclusive urban planning and design processes enhances their “capacity to respond to, create . . . and thrive in change” [p. 404, 9]. People of all ages are more confident and encouraged to mobilize for collective action when they feel their thoughts and ideas are valued by the wider group . When children and youth are valued as part of a network contributing their knowledge and understanding, this can enhance a community’s collective efficacy. Collective, meaning together - and efficacy meaning the ability to produce a desired result.
Fortunately, children are proven natural change agents  and their inclusion in planning and design processes brings new perspectives and infuses creativity to the urban environment [12-14]. For example, children want cities to be inclusive for everyone  and they illuminate opportunities to improve outdoor play spaces and environments for animals . Children also express wanting greater opportunities to care for nature within urban environments [17-19]. Children’s involvement not only benefits children, but municipalities that support such efforts see greater collaboration across sectors, an enhanced sense of openness and an increased leveraging of resources .
Enhancing children’s participation through a Child Friendly Cities framework can contribute to more resilient communities and cities. The connection between Child Friendly and Resilient Cities is highlighted in Designing Cities With Children and Young People: Beyond Playgrounds and Skate Parks by Victoria Derr, Louis Chawla and Willem van Vliet . The authors describe children as ‘natural change agents’ and make explicit the overlap between Child Friendly Cities and Resilient Cities frameworks.
Using the innovative Growing Up Boulder’s (GUB) first park planning project as an example, the authors explain how intergenerational participatory planning can:
Both frameworks can reinforce the other, contributing to mutually beneficial impacts. The authors explain, “Child Friendly Cities could learn from Resilient Cities by increasing stewardship opportunities, thereby teaching children project-specific skills. Resilience planning could also learn from children: green infrastructure can play a role not only in supporting ecosystem services, but also in providing community opportunities for access to nature for play and restoration” [p.29]. For a much deeper dive on planning for urban resilience and children’s participation see: Integrating Children and Youth Participation into Resilience Planning: Lessons from Three Resilient Cities.
Children are often underappreciated in traditional participatory design processes - what we have previously coined as an example of a 'design outsider'. As Josh Fullan, Principal Consultant at Toronto-based Maximum City identifies, “we are very good at talking about child-friendly cities, and we are getting better at having children participate in the engagement and design process, but we fairly dismal at getting things done at the street and neighbourhood level” . When government agencies fail to engage children and youth in participatory design processes, it is other actors, such as schools, urban planners, and designers who ‘step up’ to this important challenge. It is through professional motivation - not solely government policy or community processes, that initiate the inclusion of children and youth. Fiona Robbé describes these actors as ‘Coming In From The Side’ (CIFTS)  - designers and organizations who recognize and advocate for the value of children’s participation in the planning and design of communities.
CIFTS actors are critical contributors to enhancing children and youth’s involvement in the planning and design of current and future places. As aptly stated by Professor emerita in the Program in Environmental Design at the University of Colorado Boulder Louise Chawla, “children’s participation depends on committed adult support” (p. 237, 23). Fortunately, there are numerous examples of strong advocates of children and youth’s participation in the planning and design of communities.
These include but are not limited to:
These are but a few of the many organizations that are providing leadership and ‘pushing through’ dominant planning and design paradigms that may not yet be up to speed on the critical role of children and youth in our cities, towns and communities.
Fiona Robbé describes the value of a 'Coming In From The Side' actors that includes:
So how do we get there? Many children and youth are not exposed to ideas around the design of the public realm or opportunities to design for climate mitigation and adaptation. The inclusion of children and youth is often seen as too risky, of limited value, too time consuming, and resource intensive. There is also a misguided belief that children and youth provide only fanciful ideas that are not feasible to implement. With the contribution of skilled facilitators ‘coming in from the side’ - they are not. Around the world organizations are showing the value of including children and youth in participatory planning and design processes. Considering the overlap of children’s rights and urban resilience frameworks and priorities is a powerful opportunity to “expand our conceptualization of wellness, promote social justice and well-functioning ecosystems, [and] support children as agents of change” [25, p.25]. The Climate Emergency requires the contribution of all citizens including those typically excluded from the design processes - among them children and youth. We feel an obligation to work alongside the many committed professionals working towards that future. With children and youth as capable contributors supported by knowledgeable adult facilitators, we can and must do design differently.