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Toward a Child-Friendly Community: Analytical Framework, Typical Cases, and Strategies
January 16,2022   By:CSHRS
Toward a Child-Friendly Community: Analytical Framework, Typical Cases, and Strategies
 
ZHUO Wang* & YANG Shanshan** & CHEN Wentian***
 
Abstract: Building a child-friendly community is becoming an important part of the overall blueprint of China’s urban renewal and community development. As the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) puts forward goals and content friendly to children for the first time, the corresponding theoretical research should be done in time. This research applies the analytical framework of “public spaces-neighborhood relations” and summarizes four types of child-friendly communities: participation for exploration, gathering for communication, spatial absorption, and disassociation. Four communities in the H District of T City are used as typical cases to present the status quo and characteristics of each type. The three major strategies for building a child-friendly community in the future include adding or transforming emotional community infrastructure for children, providing extensive community cultural supplies for children’s gamified participation, and proactively promoting organizational coordination and institutional guarantee for community development.
 
Keywords: child-friendly community · public spaces · neighborhood relations · community development
 
I. Introduction: Toward a Child-Friendly Community
 
Building a child-friendly community and significantly improving the child-friendliness and child-closeness of the community ecology is becoming an important part of the overall blueprint of China’s urban renewal and community development. In terms of theory, various research works have argued for the positive role of child-friendly community in children’s rights and interests, family life, community environment and social capital.1 In terms of practice, af ter the first pilot child-friendly community was launched by the child-friendly community working committee of China Community Development Association (CCDA) in June 2019, nearly 100 cities across China have been exploring models in this regard.2
 
The great effect of child-friendliness on social governance, especially the improvement of people’s sense of well-being, is valued by countries all over the world, and relevant governance bodies are advocating and promoting policies and programs in this regard. The concept of a “child-friendly city” was first put forward by UNICEF and UN-Habitat in 1996, which attracted extensive attention. In May 2018, UNICEF released A Handbook on Child-Friendly Urban Planning, emphasizing that urban planning should first pay attention to the relevant concepts, basis and technical strategies needed by children.3 In September 2020, in view of the long-standing challenges facing children and vulnerable groups in the areas of health, well-being and nutrition, and the onslaught of COVID-19, the World Health Organization and UNICEF signed a new cooperation framework to accelerate public health for the most marginalized and the most vulnerable groups. At the same time, the two sides also signed a new joint plan for mental health and social mental health and the development of children and adolescents.4 With the rapid development of urbanization, restoring children’s democratic rights as urban residents and improving their spatial vulnerability has become the focus of governments in urban planning and people’s livelihood action plans in recent years.
 
China’s policy has always focused on protecting children’s rights and interests. The report of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China stated that we should ensure and improve the living standards through development and make new progress in “ensuring people’s access to education.” This is an important symbol of promoting the development of children’s cause in the new era, and a series of important policy documents have been issued and actions launched. In April 2019, China’s National Development and Reform Commission and UNICEF jointly launched the Declaration on Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals for Children through Shared Development, which demonstrated to the international community the Chinese government’s determination and practical actions in implementing the concept of child-friendliness.5 In May 2019, the General Office of the State Council issued the Guideline on Promoting the Development of Care Services for Infants and Children Under the Age of Three to coordinate and promote the development of the overall infant care service system from the three key subjects of family, community and service institutions.6 In June 2021, the leading group for the protection of minors under the State Council issued Opinions on Strengthening the Protection of Minors, emphasizing the importance of family protection, school protection, social protection, network protection, government protection and judicial protection. The “six in one” pattern of juvenile protection in the new era fully guarantees the rights of minors to subsistence, development, protection and participation.7 The frequent introduction of care policies covering the whole process of children’s growth and the continuous progress of important measures not only highly conform to the mainstream trend of urban development around the world, but also fully attest to the necessity of integrating the building of child-friendly communities into the national strategy, and show China’s unremitting efforts to improve the child protection and welfare system.
 
On the one hand, building a child-friendly community is an effective guarantee for children’s subsistence and growth. In view of the important impact of the community environment on children’s physical quality, emotion, communication and cognition,8 the introduction of the “child-friendliness” concept at the community level can substantially change the single perspective of adults in the existing urban and rural community planning and help to safeguard children’s space rights and interests, improve their daily life and socialization, and solve such problems as their seriously dropping outdoor activity time, physical decline, slow growth of independent mobility, poor pressure resistance and so on.9 On the other hand, child-friendly communities are of special significance for family and neighborhood relations. The friendships children foster independently can build family ties that directly or indirectly accumulate social capital and provide a communication medium for communities that may otherwise be isolated.10 By so doing, we can improve family life through child-friendliness and further, promote neighborhood interaction and their harmonious development. To sum up, a child-friendly community plays a significant role in promoting children’s rights and interests, family life, community environment, social capital and community-level governance and constitutes an important part of building an inclusive urban spatial rights and interests system.11
 
The Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035 of the People’s Republic of China,  officially released in March 2021, puts forward the objectives and contents of “child-friendliness” and this is the first time this has been included in the five-year plan, including the establishing of national demonstration child-friendly cities, the construction of children’s homes in the community, the transformation of public spaces to be child-friendly and the improvement of children’s public service facilities.12 It marks the task of building a child-friendly community being listed as a priority in China’s overall urban governance. It can be predicted that more large-scale programs will be launched, and the corresponding theoretical research should naturally follow up in time.
 
The existing studies on child-friendly communities have put forward many insightful views, but their research direction is obviously lop-sided. As far as their content is concerned, most studies focus on the “hardware” such as design and planning of public spaces, and pay less attention to the “software” such as daily communication among residents; as far as the methods are concerned, the existing research focuses on theories or normative discussion with many case studies, and few multi-case comparative study and empirical research, which restrict their potential for policy output.
 
Based on the above-mentioned reasons, this study intends to further broaden the research horizon, construct a more explanatory theoretical framework, introduce different types of cases and use diversified tools to come up with more theories and do more practices on such core issues as an analytical framework, model classification and implementation path in the development of child-friendly communities.
 
Ⅱ. Public Space and Neighborhood Relations: An Analytical Framework and Classification of Child-Friendly Communities
 
The building of a child-friendly community starts with community planning, design, renewal and construction, which aims to create an environment with a greater sense of security and identity and more vitality for children. The social attribute of community facilities requires not only material friendliness, but also spiritual and cultural care.13 But the existing researches into building child-friendly communities always dwell on one single aspect,14 either spatial elements such as structural design, site shaping and functional planning,15 or communication elements such as interpersonal networks, good neighborhood relations and emotional interaction.16
 
At the level of physical space, some scholars, from the perspective of the macro layout, hold that land use, building structure, plot mode and street mode are the key variables to adjust for the public places of child-friendly communities.17 The public space structure of communities should be evaluated and planned from the four aspects of object, texture, form and function according to the characteristics of children’s activities.18 It is worth noting that while highlighting that the public space features may be perceived, discovered, shaped and used by children, scholars also emphasize the importance of children’s independent and free access to these materials.19 Proceeding from the perspective of micro renewal and under the guidance of macro strategic planning, policies and regulations, some scholars have carried out a series of explorations such as traffic path design, natural environment planning and outdoor space renewal, so as to promote the transformation of urban spatial attributes.20 In terms of child-friendly strategies for the renewal of public spaces, some scholars pay attention to whether children’s outdoor activities are safe, fun and close to nature,21 and whether the design guidance is needs-oriented.22 The purpose is to ensure children’s right to a healthy and safe living environment and public service facilities, and to create a safe, comfortable, accessible and entertaining outdoor activity space.
 
At the level of social communication, scholars proceed from the perspective of two-way influence and emphasize on one hand the necessity of neighborhood communication and emotional interaction for promoting children’s all-round development and meeting their natural willingness to explore and participate23 and on the other hand the various networks generated by children in a public space, and an important link they serve as in promoting the development of family and community and forming and maintaining social capital.24 This includes: first, children play an important role in building social networks, social trust and good neighborhood relations. The frequent appearance and interaction of children in public spaces can “take parents out of the room” and “lead them into the crowd,” and enhance their engagement, communication and mutual trust; second, parents can enhance their understanding of the community through the children’s perspective of the public environment; third, allowing and encouraging children to communicate with neighbors and strangers can cultivate children’s respect for neighbors and residents, and children who have always had a positive attitude toward the community can also detect community governance problems from a new perspective.
 
Based on this literature and China’s social conditions, this study defines the child-friendly community as a complex that takes into account the physical space and social and emotional interpretation, including children’s living conditions, travel, play and communication. Its environmental quality is composed of the exterior public space and the connotations of neighborhood relations. In the framework of “public space-neighborhood relations,” based on the interaction between the environmental dimension of public space and the communication dimension of neighborhood relations, four types of child-friendly communities can be summarized: participation for exploration, gathering for communication, spatial absorption, and disassociation. (See Table 1).
 
 
Table 1 Analytical framework and classification of child-friendly communities

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For the “participation for exploration” type, the relationship between the public space and neighborhood relations is symbiosis and mutual promotion. The two are tied by the positive cycle of children’s free mobility, public space access and community activity participation. This kind of community not only has various themed spatial forms, safe and convenient walking systems and creative artistic elements, but also enjoys warm neighborhood relations and a lively atmosphere. In this case, the community takes the initiative to build organizations and platforms for children’s participation, and most community affairs are open to residents including children. In such communities, children can explore various community issues independently and freely, and participate in the decision-making to the greatest extent.
 
The “Disassociation” type is the opposite of those children-friendly communities encouraging “participation for exploration.” The scale, interface design and the relationship with the surrounding environment largely ignore the specific needs of children. At the same time, the low-quality space environment has a negative effect on the communication and interaction of community residents. The defects and extensional effects of the physical space are likely to deprive children of their sense of attachment, identity and belonging to the community. Due to the lack of large-scale or small-scale node space, residents have not spontaneously formed an interconnected combination, resulting in indifferent neighborhood relations. Children often can only go to the surrounding large-scale activity sites, and barely carry out individualized and disassociated activities on non-activity land.
 
The “gathering for communication” type builds on traditional neighborhood relations and community participation but faces the problem of insufficient renewal of the public space form. Residents’ social interaction which his only habitual constantly shapes their memories, emotions and attitudes and ultimately forms a common cultural life and collective consensus. Although children can be in the community space through their spontaneous group activities and their parents’ relationship network, the community space with a simple environment and functions cannot provide a comfortable and friendly place for children’s daily use and themed activities. As neighborhood relations and public space influence each other, the spontaneous social network lacks the spatial basis for continuation and development, which is why neighborhood interaction tends to be indifferent.
 
The “Spatial absorption type” features superior quality space but lacks traditional neighborhood relations, with commercial housing communities as a typical representative. Such modern communities can basically support children’s general activity needs at the material level. However, due to the individual “atomization” trend in the high-density environment, the interaction among residents in most of such communities is insufficient, which may lead to problems such as indifferent neighborhood relations, loss of community spirit, lack of autonomy and so on. Although the community space has a certain appeal for children’s outdoor play, and the accessibility of the space also enables people to meet and contact, these exchanges generally stay at the primary level of face-to-face greetings, which is not enough to produce a strong cohesion.
 
Ⅲ. Investigation and Presentation of Typical Cases of Child-Friendly Community
 
A. Overview of the cases
 
This research selects corresponding cases that are typical of their type.25 As a non-probabilistic sampling, the typical case study method is to select a normal or an average case from many cases. In case of limited time or resources, it can effectively overcome the selection bias, eliminate extreme or abnormal cases, and help to identify or understand the key elements of the research objects. We chosen a corresponding typical case for each of the four types of child-friendly communities.
 
Due to the principle that a typical case should be a normal or average case and after field investigations and online data searches on the overall situation, TX, TS, J and F communities in H District of T City, which have their own strengths and weaknesses in software and hardware, have been selected as the typical cases. These target communities occupy half of the streets in District H, covering different community categories such as an old community and commercial housing community, closed community and open community. With obviously different internal characteristics and rich data, these cases feature typicality and research convenience and well correspond to the specific characteristics of the four types.
 
The total area of TX is about 80,000 square meters, including two neighborhoods, and it has 22 buildings housing 3,510 permanent residents. The age span of residents is large, but seniors and children comprise the majority. It is a typical district with high-quality educational resources. Adults residents are busy during work times, leaving the care of children mainly to the senior residents.
 
With a total area of 0.26 square kilometers, TS has 17 property neighborhoods, quasi-property neighborhoods, bungalows, roadside buildings and scattered buildings divided into six networks and is home to more than 3,100 households and nearly 9,600 people.More than 100 enterprises and institutions such as the Municipal Children’s library, the Municipal Elderly Foundation and the Municipal Publishing House are also located here. There too many districts under the jurisdiction of the community, this study mainly focuses on Q, a community built in 2002. The community is mainly high-rise buildings with some small and medium-sized houses. It is a typical commercial housing community where a large number of young people are concentrated.
 
The total area of J is about 96,000 square meters. It houses about 5,924 people including 1,283 seniors and 418 teenagers. There are a considerable number of low-and middle-income families who have housing difficulties and have lived in homes with joint property rights for a long time. J is also a typical old community. It organized various types of cultural activities in the past, but as the initial participants age and the activities slacken, many activities have been canceled with only five cultural teams retained.
 
F consists of 27 neighborhoods with 1,378 residents and a permanent population of 4,008. It is a typical open community close to the street where the entrances of the neighborhoods under its jurisdiction are directly on the streets, and there is a lack of encircled activity spaces. But since it is adjacent to the people’s gymnasium, many residents in it can be seen in the gymnasium all year round and frequently participate in various public welfare and cultural and sports activities sponsored by the municipal government and the district government.
 
B. Case evaluation
 
The research adopts multiple methods such as on-site surveys, questionnaires and semi-structured interview to investigate and evaluate the current situation and characteristics of child-friendliness in the four communities.
 
The on-site survey mainly evaluates the child-friendliness of their public space. Among them, the investigation of children’s activities is carried out in the forms of observation, interaction and shooting, and the exploration of spatial shape is carried out in the forms of asking about residents’ feelings, soliciting children’s feedback, shooting and measurement. The evaluation results have also taken into account the descriptions of community residents and staff. The quality of their public space is evaluated from multiple dimensions on a scale of 1 to 5, i.e., “very unfriendly, 
 
unfriendly, ordinary, friendly and very friendly.” The questionnaire mainly collects data on their neighborhood relations and other conditions. To ensure the integrity and accuracy of the questionnaire data, questions are asked face to face and collected on the spot. In this study, the questionnaire was distributed twice in September 2020 to modify its structure and questions. From October 2020 to January 2021, the questionnaires were officially distributed and recovered four times. Finally, 108 questionnaires were distributed, and 105 valid questionnaires were recovered.
 
The in-depth interviews mainly aimed to understand the communities’ child-friendliness and community governance. Through on-site interviews with children and parents, we can understand their views of the communities’ public spaces, and through interviews with staff of property and community committees, we can have an in-depth understanding of their community governance.
 
1. Public space evaluation
 
Through evaluation of the five indicators, i.e., safety, comfort, accessibility, fun and multi-functionality, a child-friendliness score for the four communities’ public space was calculated (see Figure 1). Among them, the score for TS is 4.236, which is the highest; F and J, 1.730 and 2.816 respectively, which need to be optimized; TX, high, but further improvement is needed.

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2. Neighborhood relations evaluation
 
The scores of child-friendliness for neighborhood relations in these four communities were calculated (see Figure 2) based on the data obtained. The scores of TX and J were highest, 3.280 and 3.242 respectively; TS and F, the lowest, 2.955 and 2.864 respectively. In the two communities, only the score of their psychological comfort was more than 3, and the scores for material support and action care were relatively low. Among them, the score difference of TS in different dimensions is the largest. Except for the communication with less interest involvement such as greetings chatting and airing grievances, residents are not enthusiastic about such communication as using or donating items closely related to their own interests, helping with collecting express delivery and picking up children. This shows that the care, cohesion and sense of shared identity of TS residents need to be cultivated to further promote daily communication. For psychological comfort, the four communities generally scored higher within the range of 3.06 ~ 3.76. For material support, TX reached 3.04, while the scores of the other three communities were below 3 and closer to 2.

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3. Classification of typical cases
 
Through the above analysis, we can compare the quality of the communities’ public spaces and the neighborhood relations of the four communities. The friendliness of their public spaces and neighborhood relations were graded on a scale of 1-5 points, and a score over 3 means high child-friendliness, below 3 represents low child-friendliness. Processing this data within the analytical framework, it can be found that TX, TS, J and F correspond to the “participation for exploration” type, “spatial absorption” type, “gathering for communication” type and “disassociation” type respectively (see Figure 3).

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C. Case description
 
1. Space shaping and community advocacy — TX of the “participation for exploration” type 
 
Making full use of small spaces such as the front and back of houses or corners, TX has built small-scale public spaces for public behavior and activities, such as adding simple rest or activity facilities, providing sufficient and diverse indoor and outdoor activity spaces for children, and colorful game facilities, landscape sketches, and wall paintings or ground paintings and making the space more comfortable, interesting and multi-functional. The people who communicate in the upgraded public space are mainly seniors, children and adults with children. Most of them concentrate in the activity site with children’s amusement facilities and pavilions decorated with “grapevine.” Their communication is mainly takes the forms of chatting, playing, walking, walking dogs, playing chess and exercising. In terms of reshaping the daily life and culture of the community, TX has launched the reproduction or continuation of traditional community festivals such as “neighbor’s day” and “let’s spend the Minor Chinese New Year together,” as well as a series of new social activities. Such efforts aim to mobilize the residents’ participation and focus on enabling residents to advise on and participate in the renewal of the public space. “It is our suggestion to reconstruct the activity site at the entrance of the neighborhood. After the renovation, the site is much larger. I often bring my grandson here to play,”26 After promoting residents’ identity with and management of the neighborhood, their enthusiasm for participating in public affairs, community activities and voluntary services is generally higher. Neighbors have become familiar with each other. There are also online social networks for Party members, seniors and parents. Community brand activities such as “neighbor’s day” are widely praised and facilitate interaction among residents. “People are always there to participate in activities. As long as we release the activity information in the online chat group, people will come.”27
 
TX, as a typical old community, pays attention to combining its physical space with a social function in the renewal of its essential attribute of being a public space. Apart from improving and expanding the space, it also shapes residents’ social behavior and social relations through a series of highly participatory, effective, innovative and integrated social activities. The good-quality space environment of TX is the main factor affecting the frequency of children’s behaviors and activities. The comfortable and interesting outdoor environment attracts children to leave the home and participate in outdoor activities. With the increase of outdoor activities, the overall spatial vitality of TX has been improved which further attracts more children. Children’s behavioral efficacy stems from their free mobility and neighborhood relations, and it strengthens the daily contact between residents and realizes the sharing of utilitarianism and emotion among residents. This can prompt TX residents to change their thinking and behavior in establishing long-term and stable neighborhood relations, actively participate in community affairs, promote the improvement of the environment and form a virtuous circle.
 
2. Stagnation of spatial form renewal — J represents the “gathering for communication” type
 
J has problems such as lack of service function, poor space environment, lack of landscaping and road obstruction. Most of the existing facilities are also seriously aged and have been damaged through long-term use. This has particularly eroded the safety of J’s public space. Disorderly parked motor vehicles block roads and occupy children’s space, and the road system cannot separate people and vehicles, resulting in traffic safety hazards for children. At the same time, children’s safety when riding bicycles is greatly jeopardized by the poor pavement condition, traffic facilities and monitoring equipment of children’s basic commuter roads, pedestrian space occupied by motor vehicles and the inappropriate isolation modes between pedestrian and vehicle. Therefore, although small catering businesses make J always full of vitality, its overall safety evaluation is relatively low. J also ignores the element of fun in the spatial renewal process. Although the activity space is large and open with a small number of wooden chairs distributed in it, its wall background is mainly gray with a lack of bright color design, making the atmosphere relatively dull and monotonous. The reconstruction design of J’s public space still needs to be upgraded, so does the activity organizational ability of its committee. However, the living circle of residents there is relatively complete with a strong flavor of life. Residents often gather at the door of shops to chat. The internal vegetable market also greatly extends the place of communication and promotes interaction among residents. “I seldom participate in community activities, and no one informs us... When we are free, we sit here downstairs and chat with several close friends.”28
 
When children can’t find a fully functional space for entertainment, learning and communication when they move around near their residence, the traditional neighborhood communication mode will also weaken, resulting in problems such as residents’ low sense of security and belonging and lack of vitality. In fact, community renewal not only means spatial transformation, but also should gradually improve the internal functions of the community according to the continuous growth and the changing needs of residents. The improvement of internal functions will affect residents’ lifestyles and social ideology and change them imperceptibly. Therefore, enhancing the functional transformation and emotional continuity of the material space has become the core of J’s renewal. In short, in order to continuously stimulate communication with children as a bond, we also need to create a public space with reasonable scale, reserve children’s high-frequency activity places, enhance their sense of regional belonging, and finally realize the transformation from the “gathering for communication” type to “participation for exploration” one.
 
3. The bottleneck for the elevation of communication level — TS represents the “spatial absorption” type 
 
The overall child-friendliness in the public space of the Q neighborhood in TS is better than that of the other three communities. Its road surface is flat and the quality of the landscaping is excellent, making it very suitable for walking; its activity space is appealing to children for being rich in forms with functional zoning integrated with artistic elements and its closeness to nature. However, it should also be noted that as a typical modern commercial housing community, in order to meet and attract enough consumer attention, developers employ trendy landscape design, but sometimes they are too obsessed with the ornamental and high-grade effect, which can easily make the landscape a white elephant. Moreover, its high-rise residences use the superimposed vertical living space to meet people’s needs, but it greatly destroys the continuity and unity of urban space and texture. The high-rise buildings, access control and closed doors separate the residents’ living circle, and the relations among residents are relatively indifferent. The main forms of residents’ communication are greeting and chatting among acquaintances, but even the building of such relationships is also very difficult in large commercial housing communities. “We organize activities or issue notices mainly among residents who often come here because we have more contact, and the overall enthusiasm for participation is not very high.”29
 
Obviously, the frequency of children’s activities in the community has a certain correlation with the public space on the physical level, but this is not the fundamental reason why activities can occur and space is needed. Community public space carries the material needs and emotional preferences of children’s activities. Only by balancing the value system in children’s activity spaces can we really promote their activities and improve their emotional experience. The separation of the residential living space, working space, communication space and emotional space mainly exists in commercial housing neighborhoods like Q. Compared with the other three communities, the frequency of interaction in Q is low, and its neighborhood communication is also superficial and shallow, resulting in children not feel the humanistic spirit and friendly atmosphere. Therefore, the TS community represented by the Q neighborhood should first pay attention to the maintenance of neighborhood relations, integrate social communication into the development of the spatial environment, gradually promote its transformation from an uninviting abstract space into warm welcoming space, which is also the direction for this kind of community to transform into a “two-way absorption” type.
 
4. Space transfer and square culture — F is representative of the “dissociation” type 
 
The above three community activity sites are distributed in the center of the residential area with an enclosed design. However, for F which is open to the street, the main activity venues for children are on its periphery, which requires children to pass a trunk road. Its construction of the surrounding squares has improved its outdoor activity space to a certain extent, enriched its spatial form, and provided a good communication platform. However, due to the incomplete street monitoring equipment and other facilities, there are potential safety hazards for children’s mobility and cycling. Its neighborhood relations are also closely related to its open form. The doors of each building directly lead onto the streets, and residents directly enter the outdoor public sphere shared by hundreds of families. Therefore, too much emphasis on square activities and ignoring occasional communication and neighborhood sharing are the main problems for F.
 
As a shared space of social communication, the square play a key role as a venue for public activities and has a specific status and value in the surrounding communities. On the one hand, it has significant functions in the residential area, as it is an important landmark for children, and has eye-catching, symbolic and specific cultural connotations. On the other hand, it has too rigid functional features, themes and spatial scale that mean public activities held in the squares are distanced from the residences. This is mainly manifested in its complete geometric form and clear boundaries, which lead to its lack of soft boundaries with the surrounding buildings. In the neighborhood communication system, the culture of the square represents the biggest social group communication in the community. Residents in F can organize theme activities on the square, but they have to directly go from a private space to a large public place without transition, and the whole neighborhood communication system lacks intermediate links which can easily produce a sense of strangeness in neighborhood relations, resulting in alienation between neighbors. In view of the lack of residents’ sense of spatial ownership and the weakening of neighborhood communication, F urgently needs to expand children’s outdoor activity space in the streets and design safe and continuous paths for children to build a child-friendly community from a multi-dimensional perspective.
 
Ⅳ. Implementation Path for Child-Friendly Communities Based on the “Public Space-neighborhood Relations” framework
 
Based on the framework of “public space-neighborhood relations,” this study takes space improvement and community cultural development as two technical paths for local governments, especially grass-roots governments, to lead the development of child-friendly communities. The former provides the possibility and form of encounter and contact for residents, which, as the basis of community interpersonal communication and affairs participation, covers such basic material functions as safety, comfort and accessibility, and functions oriented toward children’s feelings such as intimacy and fun.30 The latter builds an internal connection for wider activity participation and organizational participation, and is an all-round cultural consciousness upgrading, with children as the main theme. It is on this basis that “dual policy assistance,” i.e., organizational coordination and institutional guarantee (see Figure 4), is provided.

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The development of a child-friendly community takes space and community culture which reinforce each other as the dual support. First, as the physical environment provides the basic support for and leads the development of a childfriendly community and is easier to realize in a short time, public spaces should first be utilized to provide room and opportunities for fostering a profound cultural atmosphere. Second, in view of the endogenous mobilizing power and sustainability of community culture, we should promote cultural development in time and give full play to its practical power of reconstructing space. In the process of constantly expanding and opening up community construction and social governance, the two continuously deepen their interactive coupling relationship, and converge to directly promote the child-friendliness of the community. These technical actions can only be better and faster realized under the dual support of strong organizational coordination and institutional guarantee. 
 
A. The path of facility renewal: add or transform children’s feeling-oriented community infrastructure
 
1. External connection: shaping street space for children
 
Jane Jacobs, a famous urban researcher, once proposed that the communication function of the street can enable residents to meet and have “small contacts,” and finally form a social network of mutual respect, trust and support, so as to provide potential “caring eyes” for children’s activities and let them experience what is a public responsibility.31 The key to bringing these benefits into play lies in reshaping street space and attracting children to come, stay and play.32 In urban construction activities such as community construction and old community renewal, government departments should take the child-friendliness of relevant hardware as the focus, main content and index, and strengthen its interest, the sense of companionship and other emotional influence of space, enrich the street landscape by adding creative wall paintings, guide signs and other interesting elements, add rest seats, nature trails, etc., and increase the possibility for residents to stay with the children in the street for leisure activities.
 
In addition, for some communities with poor space friendliness and restricted by lack of activity spaces and a serious shortage of funds, we can give play to their advantages of being located in areas with dense public service networks, and adopt the strategy of composite utilization of public facilities to provide diversified activity spaces for children, such as some outdoor activity spaces in schools open to and shared by residents, and community service centers, libraries and other cultural facilities which provide play spaces for children. When the conditions are ripe, we should also consider connecting this social group culture beyond the scope of the community with the internal space of the community, so as to provide a fixed place for promoting interaction between community members.
 
2. Internal optimization: improve the community interior for children
 
When resources are limited, the optimization of the community’s internal space is also important and involves more aspects. First, the community should expand and integrate the existing scattered spaces in it to the greatest extent, explore the internal idle space and other available space, build diversified and sustainable natural scattered places close to children on the basis of cleaning and construction, and mobilize community children to claim garden land and grow and maintain plants, so as to turn “waste” into “treasure” and improve the greening environment of the community.33 Secondly, it is necessary to establish a “safe, contiguous and symbiotic” children’s play space network, transform and upgrade some children’s amusement facilities, or rebuild game venues such as sandpits and mini basketball courts. If conditions are limited, it is necessary to ensure that the open space is safe and clean around the community with appropriate separation and add interesting elements to enrich children’s game forms.34
 
B. The path of cultural shaping: extensively conducting community cultural supply featuring children’s gamified participation
 
1. Key carrier: the brand building of community children’s activities and organization
 
Children’s activities and organizations within a community are an important carrier for cultivating its child-friendly culture, which is of great significance in creating multi-level and diversified cultural content. First of all, we should pay attention to the development of three types of child-friendly community activities, namely parent-child amusement activities with children’s games as the key, community service activities with children’s rights and interests as the goal, and community transformation activities with children’s participation as the core. Second, we should pay attention to the development of more sustainable community children’s organizations, which are mainly professional organizations related to children’s growth and cultivation, interest organizations spontaneously established by residents and community autonomous organizations related to public affairs participation.
 
2. Core method: gamified child participation 
 
“Child participation” is key to building a child-friendly community. It directly or indirectly upgrades community culture with children as the main axis through corresponding community activities, organizations and community space transformation. Therefore, it is necessary to explore and establish a whole-process and effective community children’s participation mechanism covering four key links: demand expression, scheme formulation, decision release and evaluation feedback.35 Due to the limitations of children’s knowledge reserve, cognition and behavioral ability, as well as their unique interests and attention in entertainment, exploration and competition, the game has become the first choice to build children’s participation. This requires professionals to conduct gamified design and conversion on important issues in the community, such as collecting children’s daily travel path, activity location, activity content and environmental evaluation through a single-player version drawing game, and understanding children’s preferences for independent decision-making on a certain issue through multi-person role play.36 In short, children’s gamified participation is hands-on experience and can also teach through entertainment and cultivate children’s independent development ability.
 
C. Policy support path: actively promoting organizational coordination and institutional guarantee for community development
 
As an important micro dimension of grassroots governance and human settlements, the community has the potential to realize reasonable division of labor and cooperation among government, society, market, family and individual. The development and building of child-friendly communities, with safeguarding children’s rights and interests in community public space as the core to improve community environment and service, can form a new grassroots governance model with children as the link, family as the pillar and community as the platform. During the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period, with the continuous development of relevant norms and standards, pilot practices and professional institutions, and the continuous introduction of relevant policies, various technical actions to build child-friendly communities also need to be supported by organizational coordination and institutional guarantees.
 
On the one hand, government departments should include child-friendliness in their “schedule” and “action map” for community development and governance policy system, take the initiative to undertake planning and design, organization and coordination, support, supervision and evaluation, and stimulate innovation while standardizing operation. Local governments, especially grassroots governments, should strengthen organizational coordination within the community and make child-friendliness an important part of community governance and the responsibilities of various participants. Under the existing community governance framework guided by Party building and divided into networks and by taking the Party masses service center, community committee and other community institutions as the main body and relying on the advantages of area-based Party building, we should actively coordinate the units under the community’s jurisdiction, mass organizations and civil affairs, women’s federations, education, health and other departments, and attract social welfare organizations, colleges and universities, professional institutions, relevant enterprises and volunteers to work together, pay attention to the family response and cooperation, and give full play to parents’ subjective initiative. Government resources, community characteristics and family responsibilities are evaluated and coordinated to form a solid organizational structure to support the building of a child-friendly community, and mobilize the whole community to participate in it.
 
On the other hand, we should further improve various institutions and gradually establish and improve the institutional system of child-friendly communities. Efforts should be made to timely integrate and issue corresponding laws, regulations, rules and plans, clarify the objectives, principles, standards, investment, assessment, supervision and other important contents of child-friendly communities in areas such as urban planning and construction, acceptance of new housing construction, transformation and renewal of old communities and community governance, and promote the establishment of a cross-departmental organizational structure with clear rights and responsibilities, prudent and complete financial support system, coordinated and forceful talent retaining measures, scientific and reasonable performance evaluation mechanism in an institutionalized manner, so as to support the down-to-earth building of child-friendly communities in an all-round and whole process. While paying attention to the top-level design and overall planning for the building of childfriendly communities, we should encourage and support qualified and experienced cities to take the lead in carrying out pilot programs in system improvement, so as to provide inspiration, reference and materials for the formation of a high-quality system.
 
Ⅴ. Conclusion
 
This study focuses on how to build a child-friendly community. Based on the analytical framework of “public space-neighborhood relations,” this paper summarizes four community types: participation for exploration, gathering for communication, spatial absorption, and disassociation. The construction and proposal of this theoretical framework attempts to enrich the theoretical model for the building of child-friendly community by correcting the existing lop-sided research that focuses on the characteristics of spatial form and ignoring the neighborhood communication system. Through field surveys, questionnaire surveys and semi-structured interviews, this research verifies and analyzes the types represented by the four communities in H District of T City, and puts forward the technical development path of building a child-friendly community from the two aspects of space and culture, as well as the policy support path of organizational coordination and institutional guarantees. 
 
From a comprehensive point of view, the reference that this study may provide for the building of child-friendly communities generally includes the following two aspects: first, it emphasizes increasing the content of social attributes, and promoting community stability as the spiritual home of residents from the perspective of childfriendliness. Second, it points out that the heterogeneity between communities requires the building of such communities to be carried out according to local conditions, especially formulating a more refined scheme according to the characteristics of the community. Of course, this study also has some limitations. For example, due to the limitations of research resources and subjective ability, the survey, questionnaire and interview scale is relatively limited, and there are still shortcomings in determining and interpreting the context of practical problems. Therefore, future research is needed to explore the universal principles in this regard and tailor-make methods for some communities on the basis of more case studies and longer tracking.
 
(Translated by TIAN Tong)
 
* ZHOU Wang ( 周望 ), Associate Professor at the Zhou Enlai School of Government Management, Researcher of China Government Development Joint Research Center, Nankai University. Doctor of Management.
 
** YANG Shanshan ( 阳珊珊 ), Research Assistant, China government Development Joint Research Center, Nankai University.
 
*** CHEN Wentian ( 陈问天 ), Research Assistant of the Chinese Gvernment Development Joint Research Center, Nankai University. This paper is sponsored by the special fund project of basic scientific research expenses for colleges/universities directly under ministries and commissions of the Central Government “Research on the Digital Management for a Matrix of Communities in China’s First-tier Cities” (63192202) and the project of Asian Research Center of Nankai University “Research on the Pilot Program Mechanism for Comprehensively Deepening Reform” (AS2003).
 
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