If we truly believe the children are our future, then we must take steps toward building better living spaces for them.
These spaces include the homes they live in, the schools they learn in, and of course, the cities they grow up in. And the innovative groups of Arup and Bernard van Leer Foundation agree.
Through their partnership, these two organizations formed a set of guidelines called Proximity of Care. This document addresses the deep lack of attention for children’s welfare in urban planning.
Before this document was a piece of virtual reality (VR) technology called Urban95 where users see how unsafe cities actually are for children. But how exactly did the VR experience inspire the vision for and outcome of Proximity of Care?
How Was VR Used to Make Cities Safer for Children?
In 2019, the design firm Arup and child development-focused group Bernard van Leer Foundation launched a VR initiative called Urban95. The initiative poses this pivotal question that is the premise of Proximity of Care Design Guide:
If you could experience the city from 95— Urban95 —
centimetres— the height of a 3-year-old — what would you change?
In the VR experience, users can view a realistic city landscape as though they were 95 cm, or 37 inches, tall, Reuters reports. At this height, users of the VR tool Urban95 get to see how cities look to 3-year-old children.
But this experience goes beyond the visual aspect of VR. Arup says they incorporated live actors “navigating an AI controlled traffic system” with real-time proximity-based audio. With this VR setup, users get to have a realistic feel of what it is like to be a child in a city designed without them in mind.
The groups enlisted the help of behavioral experts, as well as virtual, visualization and acoustics experts to make Urban95 possible. Using this VR tool, leaders and policy makers gain better insight into what their cities need and how they can be improved for children, especially those in “informal and refugee settlements”.
Even the prime minister of Ivory Coast learned how unsafe cities are for children and other vulnerable groups. According to Reuters, Bernard van Leer’s executive director Cecilia Vaca Jones said, “When the Prime Minister of Ivory Coast used the VR, he said, ‘I never realised how dangerous cars can be!’”
The Bernard van Leer Foundation says several countries have accessed Urban95. These countries include Brazil, India, and Peru. And using Urban95, cities can integrate the guidelines set in Proximity of Care into their urban design.
What Is the ‘Proximity of Care’ Guide?
Arup and the Bernard van Leer Foundation developed the Proximity of Care Design Guide to establish the principles policy makers should abide by in order to create safer cities for children, caregivers, pregnant women, handicapped individuals, and everyone in general. These guidelines are a result of what they observed in their virtual immersion in Urban95.
The Proximity of Care Guidelines contains three sections, which are essentially the guiding principles for urban planners:
These three sections work together to guide those in power with their urban design decisions. In Understand, the guide urges leaders to make a thorough examination of a city and its “multisystem interdependencies” that will provide children growing therein to thrive. In Design, the guide tells leaders to base any intervention to address “[m]aterial and social health and safety” as they are vulnerable in many cities, especially for children and individuals that need more attention.
[H]ealth and safety conditions through design solutions [must] tackle issues of pollution, access to water and sanitation, as well as social conflict and environmental, climate and man-made risks.— The Proximity of Care Design Guide —
And lastly, in Influence, the guide gives those who want decision-makers in their city to address design problems (especially those affecting children) actionable ways to bring these concerns to their attention.
It’s fascinating to see how virtual reality technology has brought about a significant, game-changing document like the Proximity of Care. It has the potential to influence policies and spark the change cities and children need. This is a testament to what VR can do, and it doesn’t stop here.
Other Ways We Can Use VR to Improve the Lives of Children
VR has been used in multiple learning settings. For one, educational establishments employ this technology to reconstruct far-away places or historical sites that have deteriorated over time. Moreover, students of medicine use VR to better understand human anatomy. But children can learn with VR, too.
With VR technology, children can have a more experiential approach to learning. The philosophy of experiential education suggests combining incentives with a means to interact with subjects, even vicariously, makes for an effective learning experience. Through VR, children can discover things about the world in an interactive and gamified way. And this is a potential that has yet to be explored.
Play & Healing
A recent study shows video games help children with cancer overcome the pains resulting from treatment. According to Dr. Mario Alonso Puig, playing video games after chemotherapy “activates [a cancer-stricken child’s] parasympathetic system”. This part of the brain assists in reducing
Apply this notion to a VR video game, and you get a child who is fully immersed in a new environment. If the goal of video games is to engross children and keep the pain and disturbing thoughts at bay, as Dr. Puig suggests, then VR-based games may improve their
Design firm Arup and child development-focused group Bernard van Leer Foundation teamed up to build a set of guidelines called the Proximity of Care.
These guidelines aim to help decision-makers and leaders design cities that will take children’s welfare in consideration.
It’s a result of the groups’ VR initiative that immerses users in a realistic urban environment, except they’re only 95 cm or 37 inches tall, the average height of a 3-year-old. This VR technology is called Urban95, and it’s being used by countries around the world.
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