Recently, the transport consultancy Crank publicly released a report about children’s vision for transport in Auckland. It was produced in 2023 to help shape Auckland Council’s Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) Reduction Strategy.

That got me thinking, and after going back to the recent Long Term Plan Consultation Feedback results, one thing stuck out to me. This graph of the age distribution of people who gave feedback, relative to the population.

Where are the kids? The ‘< 15’ bar is looking rather empty.

While I’m not going to claim that the process to gather feedback from children would be the same as for adults, it’s still pretty glaring to see the gap between the proportion of the population kids make up, and their voice in the LTP process.

From what I can gather, from the more detailed and specific feedback that is now available, most input from kids on the LTP has come from indirect sources (such as community groups, organisations, and Have Your Say events). It’s not clear if there was an active effort to engage directly with children.

Regardless, the initial release of consultation results is what hits the public view first, and these views then dominate the public conversation. It’s no surprise to me to see the continuing trend of older generations disproportionally involved in local government.

But the decisions that are made in the present will have the biggest impact on the youngest members of our city, as they are the ones who inherit that future.

Children cycling en masse to a Kidical Mass event in the city. This group rode in from Pt Chevalier.

Why are children important in how we plan and develop our city?

An article in the Atlantic by Stephanie Murray titled ‘Cities Aren’t Built for Kids‘ discusses how the development of cities effects children’s lives:

The challenges of child-rearing in a city aren’t limited to physical risks. According to Hannah Wright, an urban planner who’s studied kid-friendly design, the large majority of the public realm simply wasn’t built with kids in mind. During the rapid urbanization of the 20th century, many cities were designed for the people building them: able-bodied men who weren’t typically caring for children. This created all sorts of lingering obstacles for kids and their caregivers: Think metro platforms reachable only by descending a flight of stairs (not easy with a stroller), or bus routes that make no sense for someone doing a school drop-off on their way to work.

The difficulty of raising a child in a city is not unique to the United States, but it mirrors the strain of American parenting in general: Kids are sidelined by policy makers, and that creates unnecessary burdens for parents. Most urban planners, Lange said, “don’t make streets safe for kids to cross on their own. They expect you, as a parent, to set aside time to walk your kids to school every day.” Because there are so few ways for kids to handle boredom and loneliness independently—other than on the internet—many parents must continually scramble to arrange playdates and register their kids for activities. “If it were restructured so that kids could find each other and then could create, like, pickup soccer games, we wouldn’t need to be signing them up for things all the time,” Lange said.

The design of cities, and urban policy that enables it, has direct implication for how kids live their lives – especially if they are not kept in mind. As the article notes, non kid-centric designs place the burden on parents to ensure kids can travel and develop socially. The consequences of this? A steadily diminishing range within which children can independently travel to school and play.

This is certainly true in Auckland. Far away from the realms of transport policy, in a podcast on modern parenting, ZM’s Clint Roberts touched on the present fear of children travelling independently:

Now, “the idea of my daughters riding any further than like a couple of blocks away from my house” terrifies him.

“I don’t know any kids that are riding suburbs away – I don’t reckon kids do that anymore.”

How to Dad‘s Jordan Watson had some thoughts on where that fear comes from:

Watson believes that the connectedness of the internet and social media may be to blame for the change.

“We hear more bad stories and you find out more information. The more information you have, the better decisions you can make and the more cotton wool you wrap on your kid,” he said.

And that’s the thing: these dads are neither alone nor wrong to worry about children’s safety in Auckland. These concerns are valid, but they aren’t just a consequence of more information. They are reflective of an environment that has been designed and built without consideration for children’s needs.

Children en route to school on scooters, along Great North Road (unimproved).
Children en route to school along Great North Road (unimproved). Image via Boopsie Maran.

What do children say about transport, and how does their perspective differ from adults?

By comparing Crank’s report to the LTP feedback, we can see some pretty big disparities between how kids want to travel, how they currently travel, and how they expect to travel in future – and how different their priorities are to submitters on the LTP.

For example, when asked about their favourite way of getting around their neighborhood:
Overwhelming, kids preferred active modes of transport. Crank also notes that:

According to the latest New Zealand Household Travel Survey (2019-2022), 73% of total travel time for children aged 5-14 is spent as a passenger in a car or other light vehicle.

So essentially, kids want to travel actively, but are not currently able to. When asked about how they wanted to travel in the future (when they grow up), kids responded with a clear preference for active travel:

…80% mentioned walking, biking, wheeling, or public transport. And, while 60% included cars on their list, only 11% named cars alone.

Yet when I looked at the initial LTP feedback report the other week, while feedback overwhelming supported public transport, views on cycling and walking were mixed with both strong support and strong opposition. This is a clear indication that adults’ views are not always reflective of children’s.

The Crank report shows that Auckland Council can engage directly with children, so why hasn’t that happened with one of the most important documents regarding Auckland’s future, the Long Term Plan?

I would also ask that same question on the 2024 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport. The draft GPS reflects central government’s ideological and unbalanced transport policy. With its cutback on walking, cycling and safety measures, when you compare the GPS to the Crank report, it is in pretty much complete opposition to what children want to see in the future.

This difference has major ramifications for how local governments plan and commit investment in transport for the future, both in Auckland and the wider country.

The thing is, we can see what happens when we do focus on children.

In Kelston, Auckland Transport’s engagement with the community and schools on safety measures was widely supported. A blueprint made by students now forms the safety guideline for schools in the area. Even when the urban environment isn’t changed, initiatives that focus on children, such as walking school buses, are extremely popular and widely beneficial to both parents and children.

And it’s not only children who are not considered when designing our city and transport. Emma McInnes of Woman in Urbanism Aotearoa wrote in 2017 about “Why “Designing Cities for Women” should be a thing” –  which, given Auckland Councillor Angela Dalton’s comments recently, is still a good and relevant read today.

Emma made this extremely important point:

Of course it’s not just women that we need to design for – we need our cities to be awesome and function for everyone. But the best way to do this is by getting our priorities in the right order, and flipping the “pyramid” to focus on women, women of colour, new New Zealanders, wāhine, people with disabilities, the elderly and children first. The already perfectly comfortable men can take a back seat.

By designing cities that are more accessible for these groups, we’ll make cities better for everyone- including men. This means cities with good urban design, quality housing near where people want to work and play, and efficient, connected transport choice.

In order to include children (and everyone else currently excluded) we have to prioritise them. As Emma pointed out – and what’s also funny about all of this – in designing cities to ensure access for our most vulnerable members of society, we end up benefiting everyone.

Safety measures, investment in walking and cycling, and accessible public transport don’t exclusively help kids. Giving children their independence means parents’ lives won’t be warped around picking up and dropping off kids to school, sports or social events. A proper cycling network wouldn’t just make kids safer, it would make everyone safer. More public transport? That helps everyone, car drivers included.

With Auckland’s Draft Regional Land Transport Plan (2024-2034),currently out for consultation, I would ask this question.

Is Auckland Transport making all efforts to talk to and hear from children, about what they need and want in the coming decade? If the consultation process is similar to Council’s LTP approach, I would guess not.

Yet, if we want to help children, we need to change the city for them. How will that happen if we don’t listen to them?

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  1. Let’s give children under 15 the right to vote in elections and also let them serve on Juries and become board members of blue chip companies.
    There is a reason why we don’t. Children lack the mental ability and lack the experience to make good decisions.
    From google
    ‘ The brain finishes developing and maturing in the mid-to-late 20s. The part of the brain behind the forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and making good decisions’.

    1. You wouldn’t want an eight-year-old setting transport policy, although you could argue they could hardly do worse than the current lot, but you do want their voices heard.

      Of course, the irony is that parents are fearful of allowing their kids to walk or cycle to school because the roads are clogged with traffic. Most of which (on the kids potential route) is those parents dropping their little uns off to school.

    2. The brain might be maturing as we become adults, but all the problems we have come from adult decision making. So it’s clear there other things that happen when we become adults that mean we are no longer particularly good about decision-making.

      In general all the youngsters in my wider family make future-fit, collective decisions while the adults tend to make selfish, destructive, albeit ‘normalised’ ones.

    3. Narcissists don’t make good decisions. Overly-conservative people don’t make good decisions for the future. Children make better decisions than either narcissists or overly-conservative people do. Given Boards are mainly made up of narcissists and overly-conservative people, Boards would be making better decisions if children, randomly chosen, were appointed to them.

  2. What this article does not take into account is that a lot of the voices in the higher age groups are that of parents speaking on behalf of their children.
    As James mentions, children’s brains are not fully developed till their mid 20’s, they are awesome for coming up with creative thinking and some amazing, practical ideas do come to the forefront from time to time, but asking everyone to start riding flying unicorns to school is just not possible or practical.

    1. Research shows parents typically don’t even remember the needs of children younger than their own nor pre-empt the needs their children will have when a little older.

      However, adults – parents or not – can certainly make good decisions that provide for everyone’s needs, when able to consider all the issues and discuss them in a constructive way, with other citizens.

      For this to work, however, a well-designed deliberative democracy process is required.

      No one should be paying much attention to the results of old fashioned consultation results like the LTP feedback. Instead, council should be paying attention to the far superior results of the deliberative forum, and to research like Crank’s.

    2. Wait, who’s asking everyone to start riding flying unicorns to school, and where do I sign up?

      But you accidentally make a good point: riding a bike is indeed as close as any of us will ever get to having own pet flying unicorn.

      The children in this study said they want to be able to bike or scoot to school now, and to lots of other places, including work, in future. That’s a perfectly reasonable request. It’s also perfectly reasonable for their city to both hear and deliver on those expectations.

  3. Excellent post. The least developed part of the Climate Plan was about listening to Rangatahi. Council still has a mountain of work to do to improve its democratic processes and to start planning for children and footie generations.

  4. I believe that in all elections our vote should count in proportion to the inverse of our age so a one hundred year old’s vote counts as 1/100th of a vote, a fifty year old as 1/50th or double that of a one hundred year old but only half that of a twenty-five year old.
    In this manner we would see more of a focus on policies that appealed to younger rather than older generations which would be a good thing.

    1. We can make it proportional to the sum of:

      – years of life expectancy (that is appx. how many years you’ll have to live with the decision)
      – years of lived experience so far.

      1. Wouldn’t that just end up a vote of 100% again?
        18 YO = 18 + (82-18) = 82
        60 YO = 60 + (82-60) = 82

        Perhaps you are being sarcastic or just testing us?

      1. I wish they would cut by half the taxes on my Nat Super.
        Cutting by half my rates would be a help, too.

  5. Always interesting when people’s immediate reaction is that their fellow citizens under 18 don’t need or deserve a say on things that affect them.

    I wonder, would they have said the same when they themselves were that age?

    And would they say the same about other kinds of people who are routinely underrepresented in public consultations? Or just kids?

    1. I have also met many young parents who suddenly realised how much it sucks when sidewalks are blocked by cars or lowered curbs do not exist (or are blocked by cars) when they tried pushing a stroller for the first time. Now imagine that for somebody in a wheelchair or with some sort of walking aids.
      This is even though their brain was fully developed before.

    2. Well they have to know their place in Society until they pass our Rite Of Passage that proves their Adulthood.

      Ahem. I mean, get their driver license.

      (maybe I should not make jokes about that, since this is how it actually is over here)

  6. This is a good question: “The Crank report shows that Auckland Council can engage directly with children, so why hasn’t that happened with one of the most important documents regarding Auckland’s future, the Long Term Plan?”

    I think the answer comes back to a comment someone else made on here once. Council staff haven’t transferred Councillors’ decisions about climate (eg C40) through to change how Council works. Council has continued on as if these decisions had never been made. Which is bad management.

  7. I relate strongly to this

    Now, “the idea of my daughters riding any further than like a couple of blocks away from my house” terrifies him.

    As a 90s child in Auckland, I would ride to primary and intermediate both 1 and 2 kms away from about age 10. The intermediate ride included a stretch along Mt Eden Road, and I was riding on sections of that road at maybe age 12 or so.

    Now I live less than 1 km away from our local primary school and I can’t wrap my head around giving my daughter the same freedom. Were my parents crazy, have I gotten soft, are the streets that much more dangerous?

    I’ve been actively pushing for speed reductions/pedestrian crossings in our neighbourhood but not making much headway sadly.

    1. The amount of vehicle traffic is much higher. Cars are bigger, they have more inbuilt distractions, and give less visibility of children, as well as being more powerful. Drivers have developed unsafe driving practices encouraged by poor street layouts. And there’s a lot of anti-safety hate coming from politicians like Simeon and from opinion piece writers posing as journalists, to which (adult) arrogant drivers respond to by speeding and being reckless.

      Research shows that parent’s concerns about traffic danger match objective analyses of the danger. You’re right to be concerned. And thank you for actively pushing. Hopefully it’s the last roar of the dinosaurs. It’s certainly not in line with all public sentiment research about what Aucklanders want. So we’ll get there, but right now we’re up against a death cult of nasty politicians.

      1. I’ve also heard that on-street parking is much more common than it used to be, that makes riding and walking on the footpath, and riding on the road, much more dangerous. You can’t see kids over the roofs of cars when you turn into a driveway.

  8. Personally, I wouldn’t want any children of mine out unaccompanied anywhere near Rotherham …

  9. Absolutely the right way of thinking. Some infrastructure can be changed easily when it wears out in about 20-40 years – older people might be allowed a fair say about that. Other infrastructure, including public road networks are around for a lot longer, so the consequences of decisions mean the affected parties are much younger, supporting the age-weighted evaluation. Developers now are starting to build on paper roads that were laid out by speculators in the aftermath of the Waikato Invasion – ridiculous as some of them are.

  10. Deliberative democracy is clearly the only sensible way of gathering relevant feedback. The maori principle of ‘no decision should be made without three generations in the room’ can deal with how the creative ideas of the young, who will have to live longest with the results, can be balanced with the wisdom (such as it is) of their elders who can be there to work with them on the decision.
    Some elders only listen to their own inner voices, or the voices of those who pay for their election campaigns.
    Others may listen to and consider all the voices of those who will live with what is decided, especially the young, the vulnerable and the less mobile. When I plant a tree, it’s not for me – it’s for our descendants. Likewise, long term infrastructure is for them, too.

  11. The amount of time and effort AT often spends on consultation and information gathering for projects … Reflecting the views of children should be relatively easy. AT has school ambassadors, it’d be great to utilise them and resource them with information gathering tasks.

    I’m not saying what children want they should get, (ie, chocolate right before dinner) but, using that information gathered about how they would like to be able to get to school, or to move around their neighbourhood, to make some more informed decisions would be helpful.

  12. Why not lower the voting age to 16? Why not allow children to contribute to the vision of their city, that they will inherit from us, unfortunately? Because that would increase democracy, that would give more people a voice.

    It would attack the people currently wielding power over the powerless, and that would be bad for all of us…things have worked so well for centuries of misogyny, patriarchy, colonisation, Freudian health ideas etc. Why not continue with the status quo?

    Maybe because it is not working, it didn’t work for me as a teenager, and it is not working for my seven and four year old boys now. So we need to decide that our children are our future and allow them to describe that future to us.

    We are the present and the past, ghosts, fantasms and ignorant head sand buriers. Let our tamariki speak, or they will never listen to us again!

  13. I am all for giving children under 15 and particularly under 10 the right to vote and run our country and designating them to craft our transport policy. Also, while we are at it, let’s use them as cheap labour to help run our factories and do menial jobs we can’t be bothered. Thank you!

    1. I suppose it’s natural for people to get defensive and to act perversely when they feel threatened, but it also seems unnatural for anyone to feel threatened by a discussion about how to better meet children’s needs by listening to them.

      1. Hard to see how “we should consider children when we plan and develop our cities” becomes “under ten year olds running the country and as cheap labour in factories!” in one breath.

        Weird but normal behaviour for some.

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