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Transcending national and subject boundaries on day two of Uppsala Health Summit

Published: 22 October 2019

I’m cycling through a rainy morning to Uppsala Castle, and I’m thinking about the summit guests who chose to visit Pelle Svanslös Park behind Carolina Rediviva, to look at stimulating outdoor environments for children. Engelska Parken in Uppsala can be both more beautiful and more inspiring than this dark October morning.

Uppsala Health Summit’s second day begins with an interesting and very pointed presentation by Professor Mariana Brussoni. Initially, she uses the audience’s introspection, past research and statistics to make her points clear. She shows how children’s opportunities to develop and grow through outdoor play have been gradually eroded by adult supervision, perhaps primarily by parents but also by authorities and public actors. Statistics from several countries show the same thing: starting at a cut-off point almost 30 years ago, time spent outdoors has fallen sharply. The main reason is fear on the part of adults with regard to three dangers; that the children will be kidnapped/abducted, that they will be injured in traffic, or what other adults will think if my child is out on their own. Mariana then proceeds to show how incredibly low the actual risk is of children being kidnapped or dying in traffic, and notes that adults should instead see all the benefits that come with allowing children to, on their own and through play, explore their environment, their interaction with other children and, not least, their own ability to handle the physical and social environment in which they are growing up. In addition to all other benefits, children’s self-esteem and self-confidence grow when they find that they can manage their environment, such as climbing trees, running along footbridges or crawling in ditches.

From Scotland, we get a story about completely new ways of working with inspecting children’s (outdoor) environments. By moving from predetermined indicators to basing the work on the children’s perspectives in an integrated evaluation, they have not only changed what they are looking at, but have also shifted from a focus on troubleshooting to focusing on development and improvement opportunities. The examples we get come from the area of health care, and Henry Mathias points out that they are now looking at both health and nursing. One drastic change that occurs when you move from looking at what things should exist to asking what a child needs is that you, as an inspector, can ask questions such as “where and when is this child met with love and compassion?”

Today’s workshops were about how we can measure segregation and children’s health, about social integration in urban planning, indicators for children in urban environments and collaborations between academia and practice for physical activity. I myself participated in the one focused on social integration and was treated to very stimulating ideas from countries as diverse as Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Finland. Uppsala Health Summit’s ambitions to transcend national and subject boundaries really blossomed in this workshop.

The day, and the entire summit, are rounded off with brief summaries and reflections in plenary, and I am struck once more by the fact that there is so much we already know that is not applied. There are so many children who do not at all have access to conditions that would, in the long run, result in significantly improved opportunities for both them and society as a whole. And think that we at SLU, not least through Movium, SLU Urban Futures and many of our landscape architects, possess so much relevant knowledge, expertise, and solutions in this area too! Let’s hope that even more people will discover this in the future.  


Erik Fahlbeck, Pro Vice-Chancellor, external collaboration at SLU, reports on behalf of SLU Urban Futures from Uppsala Health Summit on Tuesday, 9 October.


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