Imagine being a kid in a world built for adults, having to sit on gigantic sofas, climb up towering staircases and open huge doors. Some help is on its way in Stockholm where the city has decided to install 200 small park benches, specially designed for children.
Stockholm is experiencing its biggest baby boom since the 1940s. Previous generations opted for the quiet, leafy suburbs when they started families. But today more and more young families are choosing to stay in town. According to Stockholm’s statistics bureau, there were 7,500 children aged five and under living in the inner city 30 years ago; today, there are 19,000. Kindergartens are struggling to accommodate all the new Swedish sprogs.
“The people who can afford to live in the inner city – that’s families where both parents are educated and working – want to do so. It’s close to work, friends and cultural activities,” says Pia Björklid, professor of education at Stockholm University. But how good is city life for children? “There are disadvantages, such as the traffic, but it can be a great thing – as long as there are places where children can play freely,” says Björklid.
Which cities are setting the benchmarks for quality of life?
Zürich of course. But there are many other cities that have made progress and have come up with innovative concepts. In Zürich we invest a lot into crucial areas such as education, environment. culture, public transport and infrastructure.
Who are the urban visionaries?
I don’t think there’s a group of “masterminds” that develop visions for urban life. It is being influenced by the grass-roots and every person living in a city.
What are the most important challenges facing cities today?
Right now the economic situation is a challenge. In the longer term the most important challenges remain traffic and environmental pollution in general, migration and the consequences of an ageing population.
Do we need to bring back craft and manufacturing to our cities?
Cities are expensive locations, and so firms must be innovative instead of producing at the lowest costs. Besides the service sector, research and development as well as custom-built products are examples of industries that could remain within the city borders. Nevertheless, diversity is important for a city and this includes craft and manufacturing. There must be affordable space for niche producers and experiments.
Turkey is promoting a healthier lifestyle: from 19 July, smoking will be banned in restaurants, cafés and bars.
But since more than one in three Turks smoke, even the threat of a 5,000 lira (€2,300) fine may not be enough to force owners to stop customers lighting up. There is also the belief that the fines will rarely be issued anyhow.
Would you be more likely to throw rubbish in a bin if it told you a joke as a thank you? The city of Helsinki hopes so. This summer, eight talking dustbins dotted around the city will entertain citizens and tourists, make them laugh, talk politics and teach Finnish in seven languages. Helsinki spends €2m every year on picking up rubbish – a sum that could buy 2,000 city bikes or 500 trees. When the talking bins were first tried out last summer, they were a big success – people said they made them more aware of the litter problem.
Europe may have some of the highest levels of car ownership per capita but more than 50 per cent of urban journeys do not involve a car or a motor of any kind, according to the UN’s State of the World’s Cities report 2008-2009.