As part of the CREATE CHANGE workshop in April 2021, six children entered a time machine instead of a classroom. Destination of the trip: the city of the future. However, not just any city, but a feel-good city designed by the children themselves. The workshop has the motto “The Healing City” and illuminates what cities need in order to form a healthy living space for the next generation. In view of the global pandemic and the effects of climate change, the question of how to build a healthy, urban environment is more relevant than ever. Increasingly, the quality of life in cities is becoming a question of survival for tomorrow’s adults. That is reason enough to already ask children today what ideas and visions they have for a healthy living space.
The children dive into the first creative workshop exercise: What makes a city healthy? And which aspects, on the contrary, contribute to an unhealthy city? The children choose between a collection of defining pictures and words and arrange them into a collage of two very different city profiles. It quickly becomes clear that an unhealthy city has a lot of traffic and emissions, hardly any green spaces and little space to roam. The healthy city, on the other hand, offers plenty of space for sports and games, is home to an abundance of nature and animals and celebrates daily life with art and culture, fresh and sustainable food, as well as music and dance.
But what is the current status quo in our cities? What would the children love to banish from them? The second exercise asks the kids to provide answers to these questions. The results are clear. There is too much rubbish in the city and, due to the cars, the air is often uncomfortable to breathe. But not only the quality of air suffers from the presence of the cars, but also the feeling of security among the children. The group agrees that they are often intimidated by traffic while biking or playing. In contrast, the children particularly enjoy green, car-free places that offer plenty of space to run around. Animals also play an important part. Dogs, birds, chickens – the more the merrier! Pets are like friends, playing with them helps to relieves stress and boosts feelings of happiness. More public, green spaces would allow children to do just that.
Afterwards, a first draft of the Healing City is created on a whiteboard. The task: Get the ideas out of your head, onto the paper! The children, equipped with colored pens and lots of impulses from the first two exercises, bustle around the whiteboard. After hearing the task, “draw the city of your dreams”, the children are overflowing with ideas. The futuristic skyline of a city emerges on the whiteboard in no time: Forests that grow on rooftops, unicorns and dogs playing on green meadows, a cable car that runs through the whole city and a ferris wheel that overlooks a lively marketplace. On a clear blue sky, a rainbow and a sun are shining down on gardens in which fresh vegetables are sprouting. The streets are filled with people on roller-skates and bicycles. While the children introduce their city, it becomes clear that it is not really about rainbows and unicorns. Instead, it is about a space that offers the necessary freedom and safety for the children to discover themselves and their surroundings. A city only becomes a healthy city when the main focus is placed on the needs of its residents. According to the city plan of the children, nature plays a crucial role in this.
What is the message from the kids to the experts? In the fourth session, the kids describe specific measures that they would like political and economic decision-makers to consider. It quickly becomes clear that more places must be created just for children! For example, the group dreams of a kid’s campus, which features a gaming area that invites visitors to play together and an e-library, from which the children can borrow video games and VR glasses. For outside, the children are demanding more sports fields, skate and leisure parks as well as swimming pools and wellness oases. How about shops that are exclusively for kids? Or retreats in form of spaceships and houses in rainbow colors? These are just a few examples of the manycreative ideas that reflect the self-efficacy of children as part of our society. What is particularly important to the children in all the measures is the health of the environment: fewer cars, less rubbish and fewer animal products. Instead, the children demand clean air, a lot of parks and fresh water. To turn this vision into reality, the kids would like to actively contribute, for example through lending a hand in urban gardens. There, the kids would like to see where their food comes from and how it is produced.
Of course, any healthy city also has to have a place for the sick. When it comes to the hospital of the future, the kids do not have to think twice before coming up with measures of improvement. Instead of being a place of sickness, the children want hospitals to become health centers. A new, holistic branding concept is needed: a new name, bright colors, cozy interior and friendly staff all contribute to the new feel-good atmosphere of the hospital. Speed also plays an important part in the futuristic hospital. The kids enthusiastically share their vision of doctors on electric scooters and new technologies that banish long waiting times for good. The group starts laughing as they realize that, suddenly, they wouldn’t find a visit to the “hospital” so scary anymore.
Let’s get to building! The final workshop task entails finally bringing the Healing City to life. There are no limits to the children’s creativity. The group rushes towards all the materials lined up on the large table and quickly, Styrofoam turns into buildings, pipe cleaners are assembled into entire forests and spray paint makes everything gray disappear. After an in-depth construction period, the up-and-coming urban planners are ready to present their Healing City of the future. It is immediately noticeable that even the central health center does not correspond to any classic idea of a hospital. Instead of a sterile atmosphere and glaring light, the children want a hospital with a homey feeling. The kids describe a joyful and positive atmosphere, because after all, patients are getting healthy again and that is reason to celebrate! There are also many places to relax in the city of the future. They convey a feeling of peace, protection and serenity. In the direct neighborhood, the children created a botanical garden, which features an abundance of plants, flowers and trees. The glass roof creates a pleasant climate all year round and provides a safe home to a wide variety of animals and insects. Boredom is foreign to the inhabitants of the Healing City! There are many leisure activities for young and old in the immediate vicinity of the park. Restaurants, bars and shops have their own gardens and are surrounded by greenery. The cable car that the children have already depicted in their picture can also be found in their model of the Healing City. It connects all the important places, while banishing cars from the city center. For the children, the city of the future is above all colorful and green, with plenty of space for fun, exercise and play. Exciting experiences turn the city into an adventure.
Us, the adults of today, have to do our best to support this vision of the future and help turn the Healing City into reality for the next generation. dan pearlman says thank you to all six children who contributed with such outstanding enthusiasm and creativity to the project of the Healing City.