Children in the city of 2040
The sight of children out and about by themselves may be a rare event by 2040. Children’s independent mobility has been increasingly constrained. Between 1971 and 1990, the number of primary school children allowed to travel alone to places other than school dropped from a range of 63%-94% to 37%. This figure fell further to a range of 7%-33% in 2010. For children aged 11-15, there was a decline from 84% in 1990 to a range of 42%-83% in 2010.
Figure 1: Percentage of children permitted to travel independently, 1971, 1990 and 2010
Source: Policy Studies Institute
Traffic danger is the most commonly cited reason by parents for not letting their children out unaccompanied. This is despite consistent falls in road casualties over the same period. So it cannot be taken for granted that the arrival of autonomous vehicles will necessarily reverse the trend of reductions in child mobility. Creating safe streets and liveable places, and diverting more road space to cyclists, may be more effective.
In 2018, childhood obesity is at record levels and fewer than a quarter of children are meeting the minimum daily activity requirements. Playing outside with friends is the easiest way for children to get physical exercise, according to Play England, but if children are not allowed out by themselves, the opportunities to be involved in this play are limited.
By 2040, corporate wellness programmes, which are presently gaining traction in the workplace, may very well have filtered down to children. The physical and mental health benefits gained from a good workplace wellness programme can be achieved in the younger generation by a good play provision for children. To have a fit and healthy workforce in 2040, the children of today need to be encouraged to be more active. Local authorities, schools and sports associations need to collaborate to get the best use out of facilities. And youngsters themselves are also defending their play spaces and organising ‘city takeover’ events like BikeStormz – we’ll see more of this by 2040.
City centres and shopping centres are building their offering of ‘leisure experiences’ to draw in and prolong visits by consumers. Some of these free to use activities, such as such as Ping! table tennis tables will appeal to children, increasing footfall in the after-school hours. Older children will arrive with (electronic) cash in their pocket, ready to spend on refreshments.
We’d expect a decline in child mobility to continue for now. The potential for children to be big new users of autonomous vehicles, or car sharing apps, might throw this into reverse by 2040; but only if the child doesn’t have to take back control of the vehicle in an emergency.
However, in many other respects we expect cities to be more child-friendly places in 2040 than now – cities will be safer and cleaner, with placemaking initiatives creating nicer places to hang out. If young city centre populations are growing, it seems plausible that some will stay in situ as they have children. Parents might plausibly delay their departure for the suburbs for a few years. And young people, especially men, will probably stay in the parental home for longer.