A child-friendly neighbourhood in the making: the story of Grünau

Impact Stories ELEVATE

Three children pointing to a map, participating in a neighbourhood mobility workshop

Over the next several weeks, we will share stories from CIVITAS projects on-the-ground that implemented sustainable neighbourhood planning and SUMP solutions, both as news items, and later in a podcast episode, compilation publication and infographic.

In this first story, we zoom in on an example from METAMORPHOSIS, a project that aims to transform neighbourhoods into more liveable and shared spaces. The project applies an innovative participatory approach, which includes the direct involvement of children as crucial players in each phase of the project – from planning to implementation, evaluation, and dissemination.

Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories



When thinking about Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, we usually picture a global financial centre, the epicentre of banking, and one of the largest insurance markets in the world. However, Zurich, and its 12 districts are also vibrant and diverse, featuring different cultures, languages, and religions.

Welcome to Altstetten

The Altstetten neighbourhood, officially part of District 9, is one of the city’s most varied and interesting ones. Once a small farming village and part of a municipality of its own, the area was incorporated into the City of Zurich in 1934. Due to its good transport connections, in the first half of the 20th century the district was increasingly built-up with industrial facilities. More recently, since World War II, residential construction on the hillside has consistently been on the rise.

Altstetten is currently the largest and most populous neighbourhood in the city. It is characterised by numerous industrial and service enterprises and several big corporations in the low-lying areas, and broad residential areas on the hillside. Demographically, it has a high percentage of foreign nationals (35.4%) as well as a high proportion of social housing. Within the larger Altstetten neighbourhood, the area of Grünau is considered a “district within a district”, as it is separated from the rest of Altstetten by railway tracks and the motorway.

Children shaping their future neighbourhood

Grünau worked with CIVITAS METAMORPHOSIS to transform the car-oriented neighbourhood into a child-friendly place with improved quality of life, which could act as a good example to be followed by other districts and cities. What was truly innovative about this work was the direct involvement of children as crucial players in each phase, from planning through to implementation, evaluation, and dissemination. Throughout these phases, children’s perspectives, suggestions, and ideas were highly valued as essential contributions to create more children-friendly cities.

Within Grünau, the project concentrated its attentions on the Bandli Building Cooperative. Children between 6 and 12 years-old were invited to analyse their neighbourhood in terms of its qualities and its weaknesses. In a one-day workshop, they catalogued places they like and do not like on a map, before coming up with a collection of ideas, mostly concerning the topics of safety, playgrounds, green areas, and cleanliness of public spaces.

In particular, the children identified the “old village square” as a place that could be improved. The administration took this indication seriously, and through a participatory approach and the intervention of specialists, transformed the square with a fresh design and several features to offer children a new playground space. The new area was opened in August 2020, and has since become the go-to place for gatherings, street festivals, and social meetings in the neighbourhood.

Another interesting measure was implemented during the school’s mobility week. A neighbourhood parking spot was temporarily transformed into an outdoor café where the school’s pupils served their guests soft drinks and snacks. Despite being a temporary measure, opening a public space to children rather than to cars proved to be impressive with knock-on impacts. Helping children experience first-hand how much space cars take up can effectively encourage them to think about what public space actually is, its potential, and can show that there may be better, more fun, and child-friendly ways to use this space.

Finally, as part of METAMORPHOSIS, a local mobility share point was established and managed by a group of volunteers. It includes one e-bike, one cargo bike, and a number of children’s bikes that were made available for free to locals, who can reserve the shared bicycles in advance. Fundamental to its implementation and success was finding an easily accessible location, a group of passionate people that feel responsible for the bikes, and, of course, adequate financial resources. All in all, the measure proved to be a great opportunity to replace the use of cars within the neighbourhood and to incentivise the uptake of cycling among young people.

Children’s rights to the city

These are just a few of the simple and effective measures METAMORPHOSIS has helped neighbourhoods implement to make their local areas more child-friendly. Creating a healthy and liveable neighbourhood environment for everyone, including children, should be among the top priorities for urban planners and city administrators. However, the rights of the city for vulnerable groups, like children, are very often underestimated and underprioritised, causing negative, and often disproportionate consequences for them. At the same time, children’s views are rarely heard or considered in the planning and policy processes that affect cities’ neighbourhoods’ development. Without special attention to the opinions of children, it is too easy for their views go unheard. Reverting this trend and making children an active part of neighbourhood design, initiatives, and development should be the starting point for building a better and more liveable future for generations to come.

Further reading



Photo Credits


Local Contributors

Roberto de Tommasi, Synergo CH – Zurich Site Manager for Metamorphosis



Read all short stories as they are published at: https://bit.ly/Impact-Stories




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