Skip to content
Children in smart cities
Laura Puttkamer20. December 20235 min read

Children in the Smart City

The United Nations are asking us to create cities that leave no one behind. One group that is often overlooked in urban design and planning is made up of the youngest members of our society, children. Considering that children and teenagers will be the ones enjoying and shaping future cities, it is important to include them in urban design as early as possible, while also educating them about what makes a good and smart city. We spoke to Eugene Quinn, a London-born and Vienna-based urbanist and DJ who loves working with children to create better cities. His political cultural organisation, Whoosh, is named after the sound of a fast river, train, or wind, representing the flow of energy and ambition in joy in a big city.

Eugene, what do you think of the smart city?

Here at Whoosh, the whole city is our office. We organise meetings wherever people are to stay in touch with the people. I think that the smart city can be part of that by offering participation and a sense of belonging to the city. We work with gamified ways to motivate people of all ages to live more ecologically. For example, in Vienna, if you walk 10,000 steps a day for a week and log them in the App “Wien zu Fuß”, you get a reward. That is the kind of smart city I like. Green highways, places to meet other people, barrier free cities and passages through buildings are other elements of a smart city. They allow you to make the city your own and find paths that only you can walk.

How can children participate in the smart city?

When it comes to children and planning, there is always a longer-term perspective and a sense of responsibility for the future involved. I am sad to see that even today, climate change does not get taught at school as much as it should. Just like us, children want a home and a sense of belonging. I think that the smart city is an elegant way of offering them a home while also providing solutions to climate change.

In my work, I can see that some kids don’t care about climate change, mostly because they don’t know about it. But those who do care a lot. If you can take them out on positive adventures and invite them to reimagine the city, feel ownership, that is what they need and want. I am a big fan of learning outside of the classroom. For example, last year I took my son's school class for a walk up to the Danube to explore Vienna's relationship to water, looking at the weather, quality of drinking water, snow and ice, why the earth looks blue, how the river was moved, sport, climate change, Romans, fish, mobility, Mirna Jukic and the word for water in the 17 languages spoken by the kids in class, from Ukrainian to Armenian & Arabic. Everybody waved at us, thrilled to see youngsters out again having fun in the sun, after pandemic grey days.

I also think that we need to show the value in young people thinking differently to their parents. Unfortunately, there is a lack of innovative or dynamic approaches for children to shape their city, it is a very top-down system. We need to be better at answering to the fact that kids want to reimagine the city, they want to experiment and try stuff out – that kind of play is what they are good at!

What could this kind of urban experimentation look like for children?

Here in Vienna, we have the Grätzl-Oasen. They are an initiative by the local Agenda 2021 team and part of the city’s Smart City Strategy as well as its youth and urban development strategy until 2025. The goal is to make the city greener and more liveable by creating and repurposing public spaces. Every Grätzl Oase looks different, but they all want to improve the quality of life and community.

Everyone who lives in Vienna is invited to participate, and children and young people in particular get the opportunity to co-create new meeting spaces. At the same time, every “oasis” offers green space and shade to improve the local microclimate. This is a great example of how to create community, take care of your neighbourhood, and take inside stuff outside. These spaces animate the streets and allow children to showcase their special skills. They can see the whole city as a playground. Click here for an inspiring list of the youth and education projects going on at Whoosh.

What can we learn from children in terms of urban planning?

We need to listen to children. They ask the kind of big question that we are often too afraid to ask. It is also really exciting to walk around the city with a kid. They see things you cannot see. But at the same time, especially with big cars around, they cannot see everything.

I think that organising walking tours is one of the best ways to get children interested in the smart city and to learn from them at the same time. They are affordable and logistically very simple, all that is required is some research. Walking is the most sustainable way of getting around. Vienna has made 5 million euros available for walking tours and similar urban activities for children.

As a DJ, I also love working with music. So, for example, I invite children to be the DJ on our walking tours. We are a loud and chaotic group, but it’s fun. I ask them to share songs from their culture – something we also do in other social urban projects – and I love seeing how music can build bridges so easily. We listen to music that you don’t typically hear in the streets of Vienna, in languages that are less dominant. But this is the music that children would listen to at home. People react immediately to the music; they open up and become part of our storytelling projects.

Ultimately, I think that where kids are, their parents will follow. We should learn from children, walk with them, talk to them about climate change and smart city ideas, and listen to their fantastic, loud, and joyous ideas.


Are you eager to delve into a multitude of sustainable initiatives and countless ingenious solutions within the world's foremost global smart city network and community? Connect with thousands of individuals from every corner of the globe to exchange ideas, share innovative solutions, and absorb valuable lessons.



Laura Puttkamer

Laura is an urban journalist focusing on inspiring solutions stories from all over the world. She has a MSc in Global Urban Development and currently lives in London.