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Seven Realms of Children’s Participation

Children’s participation in city planning and design has enjoyed increased interest among policy makers, designers, and researchers. This activity builds on a well-established body of research and practice that suggests that urban environments are best planned with the direct participation of children and youth. We believe that this work has reached a stage of maturity in need of critical reflection and review so that it can be more effective in the future.

This paper presents a historical and critical review of children’s participation in city planning and design. Past participatory efforts with children are discussed as seven realms or approaches to their child participation. We characterize these realms as advocacy, romantic, needs, learning, rights, institutionalization, and proactive. We propose a seventh, proactive realm as a more integrative and effective way to involve children in design and planning. Utilizing the authors’ own projects as brief case studies as well as research of others, benefits as well as limits to participation are identified. Special emphasis is placed on developing critical theory that can be used in future research and practice.