Arup, in collaboration with the Bernard Van Leer Foundation, created the Urban95 initiative to help city planners and urban designers understand how their work can influence child development. As part of the Initiative, Arup developed a virtual reality tool that allows users to experience a fictional city as a child. The overall goal is to raise awareness of the global challenges faced by young children in cities.

“The wellbeing of babies, toddlers and their caregivers is the best measure of a vibrant, prosperous and healthy city. Yet, they can be invisible to city leaders as a group with specific needs” stated Ardan Kockelkoren, Urban95 Coordinator at the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Virtual and visualisation, acoustics, and behavioural experts developed the experience that allows users to ‘virtually’ halve in size and become 95cm (~ 3 feet) tall. The VR city is a living urban environment where no two experiences are the same. It is made up of a series of filmed actors navigating an AI controlled traffic system and a real-time positional audio.

They developed a short series of activities that could be used for events attended by urban planners and city officials that allows the users to experience living as a child in a city. Arup and the Bernard van Leer Foundation also created an online guide, the Proximity of Care Design Guide.

“While this guidance was conceived before the pandemic, the crisis has shone a spotlight on the vast and widening development gap experienced by children in deprived urban areas, “ Sara Candiracci, Associate Director, Arup International Development, said. “Simple but meaningful interventions in the urban environment can be as life-changing to those in deprived areas of London or New York as they are to children in informal settlements in Cape Town. Interventions to improve the development of children can have long-lasting, transformative effects on cities and we must deploy them now to prevent the pandemic from inflicting lasting damage on already deprived communities.”