India wins big at Real Play Challenge 2022: Children-friendly public spaces make for better cities

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Bengaluru, November 21, 2022: Three Indian cities — Kohima, Warangal and Indore were announced as winners of the global Real Play City Challenge 2022 late yesterday. The Real Play City Challenge awards inspire cities and urban practitioners that have successfully used placemaking to create environments that give people time, space and opportunities to play.

These three winning cities developed their projects as part of the national Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge (NNC). Launched in 2019, NNC, a collaboration with the global Urban95 initiative, encourages Indian city agencies, and their partners, to sensitively plan neighbourhoods to make young children (age 0- 5 years) and caregiver-friendly.

The Real Play City Challenge is led by the Real Play Coalition  (UNICEF, National Geographic, Arup, IKEA and LEGO Foundation). The Challenge aims to create a movement to narrow the play gap for 100 million children by 2030, by making play accessible and inclusive. The Real Play City Challenge 2022 received a total of 94 entries, from 41 countries, out of which the city of Kohima, capital of the Northeastern state of Nagaland, won in the ‘Places where play heals people’ category. Warangal, in the south Indian state of Telangana, won in the ‘Places where play unites us all’ category, and Indore, from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, won under the ‘Places where play supports climate action’ category. This marks the first time that all three categories have selected three Indian cities as winners. It is also noteworthy that another city, Rourkela which is also a part of NNC, received a special mention from the jury. 

Speaking about the awards, Mr Kunal Kumar, Joint Secretary and Mission Director, MoHUA, Government of India, said, “Indian cities have tremendous potential for devising innovative and strategic solutions for public space development in urban settings. The work done by Kohima, Warangal, Indore and Rourkela is highly commendable and the fact that a global platform such as the Real Play Challenge is recognizing our efforts is highly motivating.”

Rushda Majeed, Chief Programme Officer, Bernard van Leer Foundation said, “The Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge aims to support city governments in India to build a healthy, safe and playful environment for young children and their families. The initiative includes incorporating play in urban life in innovative ways and transforming public spaces to make them safe, fun, and accessible for young children, thus supporting a child’s long-term health and well-being. We hope other Indian cities get inspired and actively seek to transform their public realm through a young children and caregiver-friendly lens.”

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Sreekumar Kumaraswamy, Program Head, Sustainable Cities and Transport, WRI India, said, “The winning cities are leading by example and inspiring other cities to incorporate play in public spaces. Kohima co-created pocket parks with local communities to address the isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indore is focusing on building climate resilience through greening and incorporating nature-based play while Warangal is creating inclusive spaces for low-income communities that face social exclusion.” 

This global recognition for these cities — Kohima, Warangal, Indore and Rourkela — underscores the potential of adopting an early childhood lens to enhance access to playful, green open spaces. This approach can help city leaders, policy makers and urban practitioners to improve quality of life and developmental outcomes for over 37 million children under age 5 living in urban areas across India (Census 2011), while shaping more safe, inclusive and resilient cities for all.

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