OUR REPORT
OUR REPORT

Building
Child-Centered
Communities

Building
Child-Centered

Communities

This is more than a problem; it’s a crisis. With so many U.S. children falling farther behind in factors from educational achievement to health and wellness outcomes, we must look to the places where they are growing up if we want to make systemic changes. There might be a bit more text to come!

This is more than a problem; it’s a crisis. With so many U.S. children falling farther behind in factors from educational achievement to health and wellness outcomes, we must look to the places where they are growing up if we want to make systemic changes. There might be a bit more text to come!

Why do child-centered communities matter?What do child-centered communities look like?How do we create child-centered communities?What can you do to build child-centered communities

Why do child-centered communities matter?

Our collective future is inextricably linked to the success of our youth. But in America, where place is a proxy for opportunity, not all children have the same chance of success. Designing communities for children ensures a positive future--for all of us.

Our nation's communities aren't enabling children to reach their full potential.

This is more than a problem; it’s a crisis. With so many U.S. children falling farther behind in areas from educational achievement to health and wellness outcomes, we must look to the places where they are growing up if we want to make systemic changes.

Place impacts kids’ health and wellness.

The environments where children grow up have an outsize effect on how well and how long they live. Levels of poverty and violence, access to jobs, transportation, healthy food, and outdoor spaces in a community play critical roles in the physical and mental health and development of the children who live there--both directly and through their parents and caregivers.

And the younger you are, the more place matters. Recent analysis of the Moving to Opportunity project shows that exposure to a better environment during childhood is a key driver of long-term success. What’s more, community environments affect children not only during childhood, but throughout the course of their lives.

“Kids are a multiplier. Their potential is higher, but their risks are greater. They may be smaller than adults, but with kids, everything about a community is magnified.”

Many communities simply aren't good places to grow up.

All children deserve the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong. Yet many of the nation’s youngest residents live in communities where they and their families face significant obstacles. Too many U.S. youth are growing up with significant health challenges, from obesity and diabetes to adverse childhood experiences.

Even today, we're still creating a world without kids in mind.

Many planning processes don’t prioritize the needs of children and families. Evidence for this can be found everywhere - from cities and intersections built for cars, to “workforce” housing intended for single adults.

Furthermore, even though their goals of health and well-being are parallel, professionals focused on better childhoods and those focused on better neighborhoods are rarely at the same tables. Differences in language and culture exacerbate the divide. And perhaps most critically, children and families still don’t typically have a voice in the world that is being created around them. In cases where children and families are asked for input, they are often tokenized and not enough effort is put into translating their needs and desires into implementable solutions.

“It was hard to get city officials to take child engagement seriously. It would be included in the RFP, but then once ideas from children would come in, they would all be shot down. The process was setup in a bad way.”

There is an opportunity to invest in children—an investment that yields many returns.

Children are an investment in the future. Investing in children might mean better understanding their unique needs and assets, or more deeply engaging them in the process of solution-building. But one thing is for sure: we all win when this investment pays off.

When children are the focus, everyone benefits.

By understanding the unique needs and strengths of children, we can design great places for all generations to live. This is because laws and programs designed to support vulnerable groups, such as children, often end up benefiting all of society - a phenomenon known as the Curb-Cut Effect.

Conversely, as was mentioned in the ARUP report, if communities fail to meet the needs of children, they risk economic and cultural impacts as young families move away. It turns out that designing for the next generation is more than a nice-to-have--in our mobile society, it’s an imperative.

Cities Alive:
Designing for urban childhoods

When youth contribute, the solutions are better.

Children and teens are very well-equipped to participate in community change initiatives. Not only are they closest to their own lived experiences of a neighborhood, but they also have unique perspectives, unburdened by the baggage of most adults. When leaders view youth as a resource, rather than a beneficiary, it can result in powerful partnerships. Co-creating with youth creates compelling advocates and long-term ownership for the work.

“The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.”

Momentum is building at the intersection of kids and place.

As a nation, we’ve come a long way towards identifying the challenges of kids’ communities. Today, efforts are moving rapidly from diagnosis to action.

Unlikely partners are increasingly teaming up.

Many people, organizations and networks are focused on finding solutions to community challenges that impact kids and families. Raising Places is just one of the efforts to pick up the pace — there’s more funding, policies and action to support this work than ever before. The Raising Places application process illuminated both the nationwide demand for efforts that support cross-sector work, and all the ways in which it is already occurring.

“This is an amazing moment. Something very different is happening right now, among people who think about inclusion, racial equity and social change. Everything’s on the table, and everybody’s at the table.”

Local and national initiatives are responding to this intersection.

There is a growing awareness around the interrelated nature of health and place, as well as how both affect kids over their lifetimes. Cradle-to-career initiatives like Promise Zones and Strive Together include improving key community-level outcomes as key to their success. Similarly, neighborhood transformation efforts like Purpose Built Communities and HUD Choice Neighborhoods put youth and families at the heart of their work.

Early Learning Communities:
Building Block for Success

Space to Grow:
Ten principles that support happy, healthy families in a playful, friendly city.

Cradle to Community:
A Focus on Community Safety and Healthy Child Development