In the Middle Ages, children were seen as small adults, humans with reduced capacities for work, but not entirely unfit for it. Hence, they were recruited for daily and menial tasks, which the art of that time portrays with accurate brushstrokes. The idea of childhood only came to germinate in post-Renaissance European societies, consolidating itself in the 17th century and even being reflected in the division of populations by age group. This turnaround brought a new life to beings in full formation, in which a very unique look at the world was recognized: studies show in young generations a perception of the environment free from the restraints that domesticate the vision of the most grown ups and a high sensitivity. And behold, these days, this childish way of seeing the gears that move humanity begins to be perceived in cities across the globe as something valuable, even for the formulation of public policies. It doesn’t mean that the kids are taking power or leaving their childish condition – which would not be desired – but, yes, being heard by grown-ups.
A new UNICEF survey conducted in 21 countries, Brazil among them, shows that 58% of people approve of the idea that the opinion of the group that is taking its first steps should not be despised by political leaders, as it adds a different angle to the known role. Europe has been a pioneer in putting this into practice, with children’s experiences constituting councils in countries such as Portugal, Spain and Germany. Through them, their guesses reach authorities and rulers. The city hall of Porto, the second most populous Portuguese city, has been running a program for two years in which children between the ages of 6 and 12 write in notebooks what they think of the place where they live and how they imagine it could become better. The answers are being meticulously analyzed so that a broth can be extracted from there to inspire change. “They suggest a city with more squares and parks and friendly to pedestrians, reinforcing the need to transition to more welcoming urban spaces”, says social scientist Carlos Mota.
The early exercise of citizenship, scholars say, helps to boost essential skills, such as working as a team, inventing and putting ideas into practice, leading and understanding the sense of collectivity. For five years, the city of Jundiaí in São Paulo has followed this path, by maintaining a Children’s Committee made up of students between 9 and 11 years old who arrive there by drawing lots. They take the mission more seriously than most adults. From their creative minds arose a whirlwind of proposals already brought to reality: streets were closed to cars and turned into play areas, certain school activities began to take place outdoors and the municipal schools themselves tore down walls to shorten the distance between students. and nature—a strong demand from them. The last of the child council was to lead a pro-vaccination campaign in the pandemic, which resulted in a video that was widely watched and liked. “We did this because we saw that many people did not want to be vaccinated”, explains Victor Prado, who is 11 years old. The council’s effects for him and his colleagues unfold in other fields. “My son was shy and today he insists on expressing his opinion on everything”, says his mother, Lisiane Prado.
HAND IN THE MASS – Rosario, Argentina: kids plant trees non-stop – Secretaría de Cultura y Educación Rosario/.
There is a modern concept disseminated among urban planners that adapting a city to its small inhabitants tends to make it more pleasant for everyone. They like generous sidewalks and spaces to socialize, away from the symphony of horns. “Concrete examples show that when boys and girls are heard and the city is thought of taking into account their presence, the general quality of life rises”, says Italian pedagogue Francesco Tonucci, author of the book Cidade das Crianças, to VEJA. In Rosario, Argentina, representatives from the children’s ward meet at the initiative of the city hall once a year, always urged to reflect on how to improve their neighborhood. The demand for more places to play and an abundance of green led, for example, to a vast planting of trees in which the children themselves took part, in a virtuous cycle that benefits both them and the environment in which they are immersed.
Involving the ultra-young population, even in a punctual way, gives them the basis to develop something fundamental for life: a sense of responsibility that does not stop at home. In Freiburg, a vibrant university town in Germany’s Black Forest region, the Neighborhood Detectives program was successfully created, in which children roam the streets with a magnifying glass looking for items that could be improved. “It’s a way of understanding from an early age that they can change the reality around them”, says Cláudia Vidigal, who heads the Brazilian branch of the Dutch foundation Bernard van Leer, which is specifically focused on projects that encourage children to think about city planning, focusing on decades ahead. After all, the future of the planet is in the hands of these big ones.
Published in VEJA of May 4, 2022, issue no. 2787
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