GaiaGroup : Gaia Research : Facilitation : Childrens' EcoCity

Childrens' EcoCity

Belfast EcoCity 2000

What is EcoCity
Childrens' Parliament


The Childrens’ EcoCity is a participatory exercise between children and adults to develop childrens’ skills and views on the design of sustainable housing infrastructures. The project was developed by the TASC agency, who are education consultants and Gaia Group, who are architects, engineers and planners.

The main aim of the EcoCity project is to promote the child’s right to participate in decisions which will profoundly affect their lives and those of their families and communities.

What EcoCity Involves

An EcoCity project involves approximately forty 10-12 year olds spending a week together conceiving and then building their ideal city in the form of a scaled three dimensional physical model. An example is pictured above. This is then presented to the local community, the childrens’ teachers, parents, local politicians and council officers, development partners (if the project is taking place in a community facing development issues) and other local and interested professionals, as the basis for dialogue on sustainable development of the local built environment.

The EcoCity project combines a wide range of well integrated professional aspects, including specialists in children’s rights, architects, engineers, planners, builders and youth and community workers. The EcoCity model seeks to find ways by which children can be enfranchised through the contributions they can make to the built environment development process.

EcoCity projects have five integrated elements:


The first EcoCity project in Edinburgh in 1992 reflected the importance of European partnerships and brought together 40 children from Germany, Denmark, Norway and Scotland who planned, designed and built a scale model of their ideal environmentally-friendly city. The First Ecocity gave rise to the development of a Children’s parliament.

In 1994 Edinburgh made a bid to become the 1999 City of Architecture and Design. This involved many projects, including a second EcoCity, located in an inner city primary school.

The third EcoCity was quite different. For the first time children from four primary schools, based in the neighbourhoods that make up the peripheral estates of Craigmillar in Edinburgh, had to deal with some very real issues of regeneration and the impact of new development.

The fourth EcoCity took place in Belfast with children and teachers from catholic and protestant schools working together to develop proposals for the development of the area around Ballysillin and Ligoniel.

Craigmillar Ecocity

Over the week the children and adult supporters developed the model of the site, which the children then presented. The childrens’ concerns included pollution, energy and water conservation, waste recycling, infrastructure and biodiversity. The children integrated environmental, community and economic aspects through job creation, recreation, support services and mixed use development.

One of the key features of the model was the childrens’ use of water where the existing river system and collection of water at high points on the site was used to develop a system of waterways. The result was a central loch connected to a network of streams which served both a recreational and a drainage purpose.

Various forms of energy were used, ranging from wind to solar farms to photovoltaic panels on individual buildings. The children were very aware of the need to insulate houses in order to use less energy. Transport around the site was by a tram system with cycle and skate paths and walkways. Recycling centres were located at tram stations. The children paid close attention to the need to provide emergency access to particular buildings but otherwise cars were seen as undesirable.

The aesthetic contributions of flowers and plants to the site was considered fundamental from the outset and the landscape strategy provided for a wildlife corridor through the area. Local food production on farms was a strategic consideration.

The city developed into a collection of village units connected by trams and cycle/walkways. The children chose to regenerate their existing housing, transforming it into courtyards and villages.

On the last day of work together the children gave their EcoCity model a name - Castlevale.

What did the participants of Craigmillar EcoCity say?
The following quotes from children and adults connected to the project reflect on its impact.

“I have been a Headteacher now for 16 years and this project has forced me to rethink what I have been doing. I have seriously under-estimated the abilities of the children from this community and their role in all our futures.”
Local Headteacher

“The fact that these children have produced this inspiring model in just five days is what I find so amazing. It’s a lesson to my own planning department.”
Council official

“Processes like this are absolutely crucial. It is essential for the children of Craigmillar to have a stake in the future of the area and to educate us about their rights and our responsibilities.”
Architect for Master Planning of the area

“The children will never forget this week, it has been very impressive how the process has covered the whole of their core curriculum in such an integrated manner.”
Local Headteacher

“It’s childrens’ ideas and children have got the right to speak as well as adults, we want to make everyone hear what we’ve got to say about stuff - our ideas will work better.”
Participating child

Belfast Ecocity


Children’s Parliament

The Children's Parliament, based at New Parliament House in Edinburgh, has been established to work towards a greater understanding and acceptance of the rights of children. Our patron is The Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill, the organisation has charitable status and is managed by a Board of Trustees. We have a Junior Board, made up of young people aged between 11 and 14 years old. We have a number of interrelated aims:

The idea for a Children's Parliament came from children attending a European environment education project (Children's EcoCity) at which children from Scotland, Norway, Germany and Denmark spent a week together discussing, planning and building a scale model of their vision of an environmentally friendly city of the future. At the centre of their city they placed a children's parliament building. The children's vision became our goal.

Current consultation

With funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust and City of Edinburgh Council the Children’s Parliament has now entered a wide and inclusive consultation and development phase. The purpose of this current work is to establish a clear, well grounded and sustainable role for the Children’s Parliament in Scotland. This has two strands:

A consultation with key national agencies operating in Scotland which aims to map their current activity, particularly in relation to their role in promoting understanding, learning, activity and research related to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A consultation with children in Scotland which seeks to identify their views on the future development of the Children’s Parliament – it’s role, the issues and areas of children’s lives which it might be concerned with and the support, structures and approaches which need to be in place to foster and encourage children’s participation.

Who's who at the Children's Parliament

Support for the Children's Parliament comes from a small staff team who work on a part time paid and voluntary basis and from a Board and from a Junior Board. The ICP Board is made up of an experienced group of individuals who adopt a 'hands-on' approach to their committee membership. Most members have formal experience of practice within and management of small to medium and large organisations. Baroness Smith is heavily involved in promoting active citizenship and the arts, Lord Prosser has a distinguished legal background and a particular interest in the arts, the built environment and children's participation. Councillor Maureen Child is Convenor of the City of Edinburgh's Finance Committee. From the private sector Howard Liddell, Drew Mackie and Sandy Halliday are an architect, urban planner and engineer, all bring a long history of community participation in the development of new projects and are committed to sustainability in all its many forms. Dr Angus Whyte is a specialist in IT and is based at the International Teledemocracy Centre. Lesley Riddoch is a respected broadcaster and journalist. The Board employs an Accountant and Lawyer both of whom have extensive experience of working in the charity sector.Membership of the Junior Board is made up of 9 young people aged 11 to 14 years old. They come from a range of backgrounds but are all committed to learning more about their rights and encouraging other children to do so. They have been meeting regularly since 1999.

Cathy McCulloch and Colin Morrison are currently Co-Directors of the CP. Both Cathy and Colin have worked in the field of children's rights in both the statutory and voluntary sectors for a number of years. Both have 'hands-on' experience of working with children in local communities, both urban and rural. Both have also managed large voluntary sector projects providing services to children and adults and have many years experience of service delivery, policy development and planning.

Our CO-Directors are also now working alongside Louise Young who is supporting the current consultation process. Louise comes form a children's work and arts background and has been a long time supporter of the children's parliament initiative.

More information about The Children’s Parliament is available on their website


ECO City

 GaiaGroup : Gaia Research : Facilitation : Childrens' EcoCity

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