The Popsicle Test

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How to Design Cities for Children

Amy Levner, a vice president at KaBOOM!, the U.S. nonprofit that works to provide community-designed play spaces for children living in poverty, said the narrative of child-friendly cities has intensified in the past year, and a recent report on the subject from London-based design firm Arup has furthered the conversation. “The fact that the work came out of a major, multinational firm is exciting,” she said. “It’s not just coming from academics or policymakers, so it’s reaching a different, broader audience.”

So what does designing a city around kids mean? The Arup report’s authors are clear that it’s not just about building more playgrounds, however important such spaces are and will continue to be. The report focuses on two main aspects of design: everyday freedoms and children’s infrastructure.

Everyday freedoms refer to children’s ability to travel safely on foot or bike and without an adult in their neighborhood—to school, to a rec center, to a park. The “popsicle test,” in which a child can walk from their home to a store, buy a popsicle, and return home before it melts, is one way to measure this ability. Children’s infrastructure means the network of spaces and streets that can make a city child-friendly and encourage these everyday freedoms.

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