A delegation representing Sharjah Urban Planning Council (SUPC), Sharjah Child Friendly Office (SCFO) and Sharjah Department of Public Works (SDPW) participated in the recently concluded 10th session of the World Urban Forum (WUF), organised by UN Habitat at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) from February 8-13, 2020. The 10th session of WUF was themed ‘Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation’, and the UAE became the first Arab country to host the event. The Sharjah delegation showcased the key initiatives launched by SUPC and SCFO in collaboration with SDPW, Sharjah University, UN Habitat and UNICEF to enhance the involvement of children and youth in the urban planning process so as to improve the quality of their lives and protect their rights. In a session organised by SUPC, titled ‘Towards child friendly public spaces in Sharjah’, SUPC, SCFO and SDPW highlighted the ‘Child-friendly Urban Planning’ project and outlined its objective of introducing children to the concepts of urban planning and promote their role in designing public spaces. Engineer Khalid Al Ali, Secretary-General of SUPC and member of the steering committee of the Sharjah Child Friendly City Project, presented the session at the event. He was joined by Dr. Hessa Khalfan Al Gazal, Executive Director of SCFO, and a line-up of engineers and architects from SUPC and SDPW. Dr. Hessa Al Ghazal and several UN representatives discussed safety standards in public spaces and the health benefits gained with increased levels of physical activity at another session titled ‘Child-friendly, Safe and Sustainable Public Spaces’. They stressed on the improvements in emotional wellbeing and cognitive development brought about through increased use of public spaces and children’s participation in community life. The session also emphasised the need to find solutions to ensure that children have safe, open play places in crowded cities. At WUF 2020, five youth represented Sharjah at the Youth Assembly which served as a space to share, report, and galvanise youth action and youth culture for sustainable urbanisation. It brought together children from 168 countries who shared ideas and addressed key issues such as how to engage young people as leaders in sustainable development. During a dialogue session titled ‘Tradition and Modernity: A Creative Convergence for Sustainable Cities’, two students from Al Amal School for the Deaf at the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, presented their first-hand experiences in using the virtual game, ‘Minecraft’, to plan public spaces in Sharjah under the ‘Child-friendly Urban Planning’ project. The project saw a total of 48 children give their design inputs and suggestions for the creation of a child-friendly public space. The dialogue session also explored the ability of cities to resolve conflicts between tradition and modernity and to maximise their convergence for sustainable outcomes, addressing cultural heritage and traditional knowledge systems which are increasingly being threatened by modernisation, digitisation, globalisation and rapid urbanisation. Speaking about SUPC’s participation at the event, Engineer Khalid Al Ali said: “The forum offered us a unique opportunity to introduce the world to SUPC’s initiatives in enhancing community engagement and promoting child-friendly urban planning practices, especially since Sharjah became the first Arab city in 2018 to be conferred the ‘Child Friendly City’ title by UNICEF.” “The ‘Child-friendly Urban Planning Project’ is based on a strategic plan that aims to stimulate and involve the local community in shaping the future of Sharjah’s urban landscape. It also offers a specific action plan to enable children and youth to participate in building and developing the city,” he added. Dr. Hessa Al Ghazal said, “Our participation in the forum reflects the vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, to protect children’s rights to play, learn and live in a safe and secure environment where their basic services are provided for, their voice is heard, and their needs are met and prioritised in public policies and decision-making processes.” “The ‘Child-friendly Urban Planning Project’, launched in cooperation with the SUPC, will pave the way for us to achieve our common goals in encouraging children to freely share their creative ideas, proposals and expectations for the cities in which they live and how to design the public spaces from their point of view,” she added. HE Engineer Ali bin Shaheen Al Suwaidi, Chairman of SDPW, noted that development can only be achieved through the collaborative and innovative efforts of the government and members of the society. Al Suwaidi said, “We are committed to launching and implementing projects that keep pace with the latest technology and engineering standards and enhance the participation of community members in designing and identifying public facilities, and incorporating their innovative ideas to cater for their needs.” On the concluding day of World Urban Forum, SCFO and SUPC invited a delegation from UNICEF and UN Habitat to Sharjah, where they visited a number of destinations and public places in the emirate, including Al Qasba, Heart of Sharjah, Sharjah Beach, Al Noor Island, as well as the Sharjah Lights Festival. Launched by the United Nations in 2001, the World Urban Forum 2020 is a high level, open and inclusive platform to discuss one of the world’s most pressing issues namely, rapid urbanisation and its impact on societies, cities, economies, climate change and policy making, and also addresses the challenges of sustainable urbanisation.

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