93% of children around the world breathe polluted air that seriously endangers their health. It is one of the conclusions of the WHO report “Air pollution and children’s health”, which warns of the high cost that this situation has on the child population.
And although it occurs most strongly in low- and middle-income countries, the rest of the world is not spared by pollution either. In Barcelona, the website created by the Eixample Respira platform with estimated data on air pollution around the city’s schools showed that, in 2018, 30% of the schools ?? 229 of the 755 schools in Barcelona Barcelona?? exceeded the maximum NO2 contamination level recommended by the WHO during school hours.
Also in Madrid, children breathe polluted air: the study “Healthy air, healthier children”, published last June, concludes that in Madrid schools the level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from road traffic also exceeds the recommended standards by WHO.
This same research warns that the current situation increases the possibility that the little ones develop asthma, in addition to that it can also affect the development of the heart, brain and nervous system of the child. According to experts, it is one of the signs that the current design of cities, and the location of schools in them, must be rethought.
“The child is a benchmark indicator in cities, a parameter of quality of urban life”, explains Miguel Mayorga, urban architect and collaborating professor of the University Master’s Degree in City and Urban Planning at the UOC.
“If a city is good for children, it is good for everyone. And on the contrary: if it is not healthy and does not meet the needs of children, it will hardly be suitable for other vulnerable groups,” he says.
It was one of the reasons, although not the only one, that the first school paths appeared in the 1990s. The aim was that boys and girls could go to school on their own through a safe and pleasant itinerary. Something that would promote their autonomy and, at the same time, affect the environment, since this itinerary must include areas with trees and fountains, in addition to maintaining low levels of noise pollution and suspended particles.
“For children to be able to go to school alone, they must be guaranteed a network of urban spaces in conditions, and that represents changes,” warns Miguel Mayorga, one of the main promoters, along with Pía Fontana and Jorge Rodríguez, of the City FOV Urban Lab project: urban school climate shelter network for Barcelona,
In it, citizens themselves are invited to propose some of these changes by participating in an interactive map. With the help of neighbors, it is a matter of establishing a system of urban itineraries that unites facilities, schools, bike lanes, pedestrian streets, public transport, areas with trees, water sources?
“It is a great green-blue network that bets on a technical and participated urban planning in which the idea of a caring city is kept in mind,” explains Mayorga, who assures that the environmental paradigm forces us to rethink the traditional vision of the city, thought to favor the productive model that connected home and work, and move to an overall vision in which the reproductive model is taken into account.
According to Miguel Mayorga, now architects and urban planners must not only measure the width of the sidewalks or how many lanes a street has, but they must also be interested in activities,
A variable to choose school
The way in which pollution is affecting the child population may modify the criteria that parents used until now to choose a school for their children. Three years ago, the I Study of Preferences on Schools in Spain stated that what parents valued most at the time when choosing a center was that schools had action protocols to combat bullying, so that their children learned in a safe environment ??
97% asked that the centers have some control method ? and that the center was bilingual ?? about 85% of the parents opted for this option ??. Another issue that made the balance decide were methodological advances: 88% were looking for centers that integrated educational innovation techniques into their training.
None of the parents’ concerns then referred to environmental safety. But those who are concerned about her are precisely the smallest. According to the UNICEF Childhood and Adolescence Opinion Barometer 2019, the environment is, after education, the issue that most worries Spanish children between 11 and 18 years old.
The opinion of the children, added to the indications about the current situation of schools in large cities in relation to pollution, could include a variable so far absent when choosing a school: that of an accessible, green, clean environment and healthy.