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Building a Family safe city?




“Cities are the spaces where through good design we gather, and through bad design separate. The way we choose to design the places where we choose to live, defines how we are able to live within them”.


2018 has witnessed a rise in the establishment of social enterprises challenging the structure of the civic realm. Urban planning is a parenting issue, as mentioned by Elizabeth Bastos – June 21, 2017; and contributes both to a parent’s ability to integrate into society after the arrival of a child, as well as defining the capacity for our children to develop and test their confidence & autonomy as they spread their wings and grow.


The problem is that we plan our cities around cars, housebuilding and industry, not for quality of life.  This translates to building cities for economic production and raising a family seems to be an afterthought of planners, rather than a planned effort.


Childcare is becoming more impossible to afford, and more and more parents are, resisting the urge to shove their kids into a hired room (for some nursery), and self-organising in a hope to shed the childcare expenses in exchange for better quality experiences for their children.

Despite this, many parents find themselves and their children isolated from the rest of society, due to poor infrastructure to support their parenting needs.


“Parenting is a difficult job that can leave us feeling tired, stressed and alone. As a result, parents often feel cut off from the world around them…When parents are disconnected from the family, friends and activities they once enjoyed, they are parenting in isolation without the support they need to keep themselves healthy and able to nurture their children.”.


Why are child friendly spaces scarce in number and how should parents deal with the cultural attitudes which tell us not to bring our children to work or social situations (unless we ask for permission)? Why do we plan for our children to be isolated from the rest of society, and then impose that they solve the problems of the future; problems we have created?


Urban designers must understand the complexity of the new family unit. The ‘family’ is no longer binary. Families are now intricate entities of transient titles, roles and responsibilities between the genders; however our perpetuating philosophy is a focus on generating intergenerational equity.


In 2018, KIONDO | Community Led Design in collaboration with Lisa Lucy G. of PopIN UK, was commissioned by Amy Martin from #RadicalChildcare, to explore the potentials of a ‘family makerspace’ within the city of Birmingham, UK. The reason for this study evolved out of the need to create a new institution within the built environment that could challenge the current intellectual and social development model for children within the city.


With our need to create more sustainable cities, and societies eyes poised towards our children for the answers, many organisations are looking to the potentials of STEM, in particular Design Technology & Craft skills to aid in the battle.


Makerspaces often provide an open, fun and equitable learning environment for students, hobbyists and maker entrepreneurs to experiment with tools & tech. Makerspaces service as a node for projects, inventions, equipment and mentors, and host the potential to assist their surrounding community with solutions to local problems (i.e, a new portable shelter for the homeless, or a device to help the elderly to navigate the city).


In designing a makerspace to accommodate all ages, we look to address the social exclusion usually practiced when we design our public spaces and institutions, and introduce an intergenerational element which can support in growing a wealth of intergenerational equity.


Buildings and the space that sits around them, are not for one set of people, but exists within the public realm, to be viewed as public space; shared, experienced and given life to by all”.


A makerspace cannot exist within a vacuum. In order for an social institution such as a makerspace to thrive in productivity, and act as an effective social lab to support the activism of its community, we believe that the public realm must be addressed from a systems lens, as well as implementing the approaches of inclusive and reflective design.


A Systems lens refers to the framework for seeing wholes, interrelationships and patterns, rather than instances and individual things. When we design from a systems lens, we consider the holistic context and value created through the design process and aid in creating ecosystems.


Inclusive design principles add to the systems approach for design, by refraining from designer’s historic tendency to limit the range of people they design for, and practice of creating various user dependent versions. Instead inclusive design favours design to accommodate a greater variety of requirements and users (i.e, young children, physically disabled people, autistic individuals).To accompany this, ‘Reflective Design’ brings into focus what the design means to the intended user, vs. what the utility of a design may be from the perspective of a designer. Through focusing on the visceral, behavioural and reflective stages of design appeal we can better design for usability and the emotional response to the proposed design solution. This should in turn support the adoption of a design into a community and serve in generating social value.


“How we question, decides the answer”.


The notion to create a ‘family makerspace’, may suggest that more people are becoming aware to the benefits of families being more involved in maker culture; both for society and the family unit itself.

For us at KIONDO | Community Led Design, we are focused on enabling families to create better places to live. For KIONDO, the concept of a family safe city means a place where cultural attitudes, and architectural systems reflect the security needs and aspirations of the eldest and the youngest within our society, irrespective of class or cultural background. For example, the co-working creche at ImpactHUB Birmingham; supporting a multitude of parents from around the city, to access affordable childcare & child-friendly office space once a week.


This model further reiterates the fact that building a family safe city does not rest on a single community asset, but in line with the systems approach, considers the narrative of the system’s whole, rather than it’s constituent parts. Family safe, means child-friendly, adult-friendly, elder-friendly, and also includes intersectional attributes such as ethnicity, cultural heritage, age, physical-ability and the numerous other nuances that make up who we are.


If we are to make places where families can thrive and become active agents in creating valuable change,  we must expand our question to reflect the scope of the problem and it’s potential solutions. We must ask more open-questions and disseminate the real challenges through observation, and lived-experience in combination with statistical evidence.


Herein lay some of the questions we need to ask:


The Family



  • What is a family safe city and what does it mean to live in one?
  • Do they already exist, and how can they be made?
  • What is a family and do we need a family safe city?
  • Is family safe, the correct name for the place we are trying to build?



The Individual



  • Who are the active agents in a family and why?
  • Who will benefit from a family safe city?
  • What do children struggle from and how do they interpret the scope of the situation?
  • What challenges develop as we age and how do we confront this?



The Built Environment



  • What institutions, buildings and architectural systems support families and which do not?
  • How might we design the built environment to be more inclusive of the people whom live within it?
  • How might different individuals within the city require the built environment to support them?
  • How might the build environment support individual autonomy/ agency within the city and enable people  within it reach their aspirations.



The Culture


  1. How might attitudes towards seemingly minority groups such as children and the elderly be addressed and improved?
  2. What are our cultural norms and how are they be represented?
  3. Do we need a change in our culture in order to bring about a Family Safe City?
  4. How might the experience of other cultures influence the development of positive cultures which lead to the building of a family safe city?


The Economics


  1. How might power dynamics such as class and wealth impact on the ability to build a family safe city?
  2. How might jobs and social positions support the framework for a family safe city?
  3. What economic systems prevent or support the cities current infrastructure and how may this information support the development of a city for families to thrive?



To answer some of these questions, KIONDO will co-create a number of interventions, mini-projects and investigations over the next year (2019).


We have already began looking into the following areas:


Children’s Agency within the Built Environment – A mini-investigation to observe and understand children’s autonomy in within the built environment, and in so, toy with the urban fabric through the implementation of guerilla style, urban interventions.


Parent-led Co-Learning Childcare Co-op – A project to pilot a parent-led co-learning childcare co-op to support parents with young children with quality childcare with tuition.


Designing an Intergenerational Makerspace – An architectural project to investigate the architectural design of a makerspace which supports multiple generations make things for and with their communities. The scope of the study will dissect the urban context and will explore in detail, an array of potential architectural concepts that may be able to support a family safe city.


For more information on each project (and those to follow) please stay connected by following us on social media and keeping up to date with our weekly blog.


Don’t’ forget to leave a comment below and reach out to us on social media to talk to us about this project or get involved.



Author: Andre D N Reid

KIONDO | Community Led Design & Fabrication





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