In Support of Child-Friendly Cities: Identifying and Applying Geospatial Technologies to Represent Children's Sense of Place

Date: 10/1/2020
Principal Researchers: Bryan Wee and Peter Anthamatten

Unit: Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences

Project Abstract:
In an era of rapid urbanization and COVID-19, designing child-friendly cities involves more than just providing places where children can play and go to school. A sense of place, or the cognitive, embodied and affective relationships between people and places, is equally critical if we are to support children as whole persons, particularly during this pandemic. Yet there is no systematic way to spatially represent these unique human experiences, which limits our ability to understand the diverse ways by which children inhabit cities. Geospatial technologies are able to illuminate some aspects of child-place relationships, but they tend to stumble in their attempts to capture the ‘messiness’ of feelings.

To address this, we will a) identify innovative approaches and technologies to meaningfully visualize children’s sense of place, and b) implement a small-scale pilot study to assess the feasibility of these technologies, particularly for children living in urban areas and who are constrained by social distancing. Using innovative geospatial technologies in this manner promotes the meaningful integration of quantitative and qualitative data to support children as whole persons in the design of child-friendly cities. It also reveals the unseen but important places in children’s everyday lives, especially those that may not conform to structured activities and/or adult-designated ‘child-friendly’ areas. In doing so, we are better able to advocate for children’s well-being in urban spaces. 

Bryan Wee Bio:
Bryan Wee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences. His scholarship focuses on the use of visual narratives (e.g. drawings, photography, digital stories) to understand children’s sense of place in the context of their childhood/s. Bryan’s work is interdisciplinary, creative and collaborative in nature. He has published (often with students) in diverse formats and venues. His research projects have investigated cross-cultural views of the environment, discourses of childhood, place-making in cities and increasingly, visualizations of emotions in human-environment interactions. The courses he teaches at CU Denver emphasize critical thinking and empathy. Bryan has successfully taught ten new courses in two colleges, and he has participated in numerous equity initiatives/grants. He continues to advocate for children as not only marginalized individuals but as a forgotten demographic (by virtue of its assumed ubiquity) in adult-centric societies. 

Peter Anthamatten Bio:
Peter arrived at CU Denver in the department of Geography and Environmental Sciences (GES) in 2008 and currently serves as the department chair of GES. The focus of his research and teaching work is in medical geography, the study of how physical and built environments impact human health, and geospatial science. 

Peter was attracted to geography's breadth of approach and topic and has sought to take advantage of its holism throughout his career by working with a range of topics. The primary focus of his work is around the geography of health, which is the study how places and spaces (locations) affect human health. Peter began his career by exploring patterns of malnutrition in poor regions, while most of his work since arriving in Denver in 2008 has centered around the links between the built environment and children's physical activity behavior. A secondary focus of his work is on geographic education, specifically on teaching spatial thinking skills to elementary-aged children, exploring projects that explore children’s spatial thinking skills, such as National Geographic Society’s giant maps. Peter has particularly enjoyed thinking about ways to apply geospatial sciences (GIS, cartography, and spatial analysis) to research.

Peter’s primary teaching responsibilities include cartography, spatial statistics, geographic information science, and health geography.

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