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Kushbu Kumari, a student of Class 9 from Patna, dreams of a green and sustainable city. She dreams of a neighbourhood lush with greenery and parks for the recreation of children and adults. Pointing at the lack of birds in the urban environment, she strongly feels that cities should be closer to nature. She also dreams of a city where there is a regular and functional waste management system, and health services that are easily accessible to everyone. She calls for more traffic calming measures so that the roads are safe for school children.

Children are the future of the country. Their participation, views, and concerns are critical to building inclusive, sustainable and safe spaces. ‘Children Reshaping Cities’ is an initiative launched by Bal Raksha Bharat and Cities Forum that focuses on teaching children about urban planning and development along with their role and capabilities in changing their neighbourhood and cities for the better.

The programme was initiated in Patna city with the module ‘Learning Mind-Mapping and Urban Elements from Personal Experiences’, jointly developed by Bal Raksha Bharat with content permission from the Department of Urban Planning and Bihar State Disaster Management Authority (BSDMA) for students of Class III to Class X. It familiarized the children with various aspects of their neighbourhoods and cities through mapping exercises, storytelling, and other activities. The module also discussed the aesthetic and the functional aspects of cities through urban design elements, famously coined by the urban planner Kevin Lynch.

The exercises in the module included mapping the children’s commute from home to school, followed by illustrations of their observations on these maps. The module also discussed urban planning at different levels in a city (such as ward level, neighbourhood level and city level), differences between private and public spaces and issues within the children’s neighbourhoods. The module culminated with the children showcasing their learnings and the problems they discovered within their surroundings at the exhibition.

The first phase of the training concluded with an exhibition held at the Dayanand Girls’ High School in Patna. It was jointly organized by the participating schools and attended by more than 100 students who showcased their work detailing the changes to improve liveability and safety in their neighbourhoods.

Dr Gopal Sharma, a scientist at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), highlighted the various components of urban planning, such as safe and clean transportation, green spaces, waste management, water supply and sanitation, etc., and discussed their importance in the context of development with the students. The exhibition was also attended by the ex-ward Councillor, representative Tinku Raj, principals and teachers of the participating schools and the members of the press.

The presentations by children included meticulously constructed models and paintings that encapsulated the ideal versions of their neighbourhoods and their school’s surroundings. From the provision of health clinics to public toilets, their ideal neighbourhoods featured necessary services, even minute details like traffic lights and speed-breakers, that they found lacking or missing in reality.

Suhani and Priti Kumari, students of Class V, imagined their neighbourhood to be free of pollution with plenty of trees. Their ideal neighbourhood boasted of a diverse nature of land use with banks, offices, shops, places of worship and a hospital, all within a short walkable distance. Notably, a common theme among the children’s ideations was the inclusion of green spaces within their surroundings. Many students, who also commuted as pedestrians to their schools, stressed on the need for public toilets (especially for women), well-lit streets, benches, and pollution and garbage-free streets.

The students also raised concerns about the lack of pedestrian safety and sanitation during their daily commute to school. The road abutting the school gates, which was previously an eyesore due to constant garbage dumping, was promptly cleaned by the municipality workers before the proceedings began. The once overflowing garbage dumpster was also emptied and placed away from the gates, thus, handing the students their first achievement in improving their city.

The exhibition proved to be an excellent indicator of the children’s willingness to participate in their city’s development. Their enthusiasm for positive change came through palpably and was duly appreciated by the module facilitators, teachers, principals and dignitaries. Bal Raksha Bharat and Cities’ Forum look forward to initiate such changes for more and more children.

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