David Anthony – “Play Should Not Be a Luxury for Children but an Integral Part of Their Development and Growth”




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Apr 04, 2017
by Andrea Abellan
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David Anthony – “Play Should Not Be a Luxury for Children but an Integral Part of Their Development and Growth”

UNICEF's Chief of Sustainability and Policy Action explains how the organization encourages child-friendly cities David Anthony speaking at The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play

With half of the world population living in cities, there is an urgent need to reflect on the impact of urban growth and the consequences it might have, namely, a lack of basic services, inequality and widening gaps between the poor and the rich. David Anthony, Chief of Sustainability and Policy Action at UNICEF, wants to view these challenges as opportunities to create better-planned cities which have children at the core of their systems. During The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, Anthony sat down with Salzburg Global's Andrea Abellan to discuss his views.

AA: One of the values contemplated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a legal framework for UNICEF’s work, recognizes the right of children “to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” How does UNICEF work toward the protection of this right?

DA: UNICEF has understood how children’s demands have evolved over the years. When we started to work we were focused on offering legal support to children and protecting them against sexual abuses and physical exploitation. However, children’s rights to express themselves, associate, have leisure, and participate in cultural interactions have always been part of the convention.

In UNICEF we acknowledge that play should not be a luxury for children but an integral part of their development and growth. We are very conscious of the need to promote this right, and we work to create safe and clean environments for children to learn, grow and play that are absolutely vital. We run projects such as the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFC) that seeks to provide guidelines and support to transform cities into spaces able to match children’s needs.

AA. How does UNICEF integrate both developed and developing countries in its campaigns?

DA: We run programs in 140 countries at all income levels, and we partner with different social agents, from local NGOs to private companies or academic people. I would say that one of the biggest challenges is to plan initiatives that are cost-effective, that allow us to do as best as we can at reasonable costs. We look for projects that can be maintained over time because same solutions might not be practical in different countries.

For instance, it is fundamental to have green spaces in urban settlements, but it is equally relevant to consider how these spaces are going to be preserved otherwise they will disappear very quickly. It is not the same to build a park in a tropical environment with highly irregular levels of rainfall than in a Northern Hemisphere climate space. 

We also pay attention to the notion of inequality within the metropolises. Parks are usually located in the centers of the cities. That means that most vulnerable communities, which tend to live in cities’ outskirts, do not have easy access to them. We should put fragile communities on the top of our priorities, so we can effectively look for the best strategies to successfully integrate them. 

AA: During this session, The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, the topic of climate change and how it specifically influences children has arisen several times. What is your perspective on this subject?

DA: There are approximately 2.2 billion children in the word; two billion of them are affected by the impact of climate change. We are talking about a whole generation of children that grow up suffering the consequences of climate change such as floods and droughts. There are other related issues to consider as well, meaning water scarcity and respiratory infections caused by air pollution. If we continue building unplanned cities and polluting the planet at this rate, we will have more children at risk than ever before.  

At the same, cities themselves have always come up with solutions. Electricity, water supply systems, trade, and community participation are just some of the resources that were developed within the cities. There are many cities starting to be built from scratch in Africa and Asia; I see strong opportunities to influence how they are designed and start making them child-friendly from the beginning. 

AA: The hardships of prioritizing green areas among other basic needs such as food security or health-related issues have also been discussed during this session. What do you think about it?

DA: Because health, nutrition and education are such important topics it does not mean that we always have to prioritize them over other subjects. One of the factors fostering problems such as crime or radicalization is the inability to find activities for young people. One of the most cost effective solutions would be to promote leisure amongst young people so they can learn how to use their time wisely.

It is not a matter of health versus leisure; it’s more a question of how to be able to work on every aspect of a healthy development.

In my opinion, we should invest in making people more conscious of the benefits of play. In this way, they will create leisure spaces themselves or demand them to the authorities. And when the request exists, the supply aspect tends to be more flexible.

David Anthony was a participant in the Salzburg Global program The Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play, which is part of the multi-year Parks for the Planet Forum, a series held in partnership with the IUCN. The session was supported by the Huffington Foundation, Parks Canada and Korea National Park and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/574