Children playing in a city. Unsplash; Children playing in a city. Unsplash;

Proximity of Care Design Guide, Global

Let’s create cities for young children and families to thrive

The Proximity of Care Design Guide developed by Arup and the Bernard van Leer Foundation helps urban planners, designers, developers, city leaders and early childhood development practitioners embed child and family-friendly design principles into their work.

The lives and development of most children are now shaped in cities, but these spaces are not designed with children and their families in mind. Spaces that consider the needs of children, their caregivers and pregnant women deliver social and environmental benefits for the whole community in which they live, as well as commercial return on investment.

The Guide is a practical and free online tool that can be used to assess, design and build healthy, protective, stimulating and supportive spaces in a cost-effective way, and to advocate for child and family-friendly urban environments.

The Guide provides a compendium of guiding principles, working tools, best practice examples and recommendations, which can be used to assess, design and build healthy, protective, stimulating and supportive environments for young children’s optimal development. It is structured around four sections that represent the main stages in the life cycle of an urban project: Understand, Design, Implement and Influence.

Project Summary

9 partners working to apply, review and update design guide

4foundations of early childhood development in the guide

10guiding principles to embed child- and family friendly principles in urban projects

Stages in the life cycle of an urban project Stages in the life cycle of an urban project
The guide is structured around four sections that represent the main stages in the life cycle of an urban project

A collaborative process

The early years of a child’s life are crucial for their physical, socioemotional, language and cognitive development. Neuroscience shows that a child’s early experiences with family, caregivers and their environment provide the foundation for lifelong health, learning, behaviour, and wellbeing.

For young children to make the most of their surrounding environment, places and the people in them need to cater to age-relevant developmental needs. This includes enabling and supporting caregivers to provide healthy and nurturing care.

We partnered with the Bernard van Leer Foundation to combine our design expertise and knowledge of early childhood development to create the Proximity of Care Design Guide. Our aim is to support professionals and decision makers working in urban contexts to make lasting positive change for young children, their caregivers, and pregnant women, with benefits for the whole community.

The guide is designed considering different urban contexts, including informal and refugee settlements, to respond to the needs of three groups of people: children 0-5 years old, their caregivers, and pregnant women. Although, when the guide is put into practice the whole community benefits.

Design helps to shape our experience in cities and the Proximity of Care design guide helps practitioners create inclusive and caring environments that enhance the development of young children and the quality of life of their caregivers, with lasting positive benefits for everyone. ” Sara Candiracci Arup Sara Candiracci Associate Director

Developing a practical and inclusive guide

The first version of the Proximity of Care Guide was launched in 2021. It was originally created primarily for vulnerable urban contexts such as informal and refugee settlements, home to hundreds of millions of children worldwide. Alongside the Bernard van Leer Foundation, we partnered with four experienced organisations operating in these vulnerable contexts: Catalytic Action in El Mina, Lebanon; Civic in Azraq, Jordan; Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) in Kibera, Kenya; and Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

A Technical Review Committee was set up to inform the guide, including experts and decision makers from city government, humanitarian, and development sectors at the forefront of policy, design, and construction in vulnerable contexts. (See our list of partners & collaborators.)

After a number of city authorities, private developers and urban practitioners expressed interest in applying the guide to a range of projects and initiatives, we decided to further develop the guide to benefit children, caregivers and pregnant women in any neighbourhood or city worldwide for a wider range of users with the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Children drawing together. Credit pexels Children drawing together. Credit pexels
The Proximity of Care Design Guide was developed to support the design and implementation of child- and family friendly interventions in urban environments

Planning and designing a neighbourhood to better meet the needs of all families with young children – who are at the most foundational and sensitive time in their lives – is one of the best investments a city can make. ” Rushda Majeed Chief Programme Officer, Bernard van Leer Foundation

A tried and tested approach

Partners from nine cities worldwide took part in a training programme that we developed to apply the Proximity of Care approach to a particular challenge in each city, and develop pilot solutions. The experience of using the guide for developing spatial interventions and implementation plans will help to form an expanded new version of the Guide. 

The partners selected are: Ciudad Emergente in Chile; Huasipichanga in Ecuador; Cidade Ativa and Estudio +1 in Brazil; arki_lab in Denmark; IPOP in collaboration with Pazi!Park in Slovenia; Espacio Ludico in Uruguay; and city authorities in Waltham Forest, London; and Lima, Peru.

The Guide was used also in Chiclayo, Peru by Ocupa tu Calle and Peaton, with the technical assistance of our team working on the Peru Reconstruction Programme, to inform the design of a child and family friendly masterplan. The Urrunaga neighbourhood in the city of Chiclayo has high levels of crime and poverty, limited green or play space and roads that do not have pavements. Working together with Ocupa tu Calle, Peaton and the local community, we put the voices of children at the heart of the project.

The new guide incorporates knowledge, expertise and practical experiences from the new partners, offering additional content to a broader audience, tools and case studies to guide and inspire child and family-friendly solutions in cities worldwide.

Explore the Proximity of Care Design Guide

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