11 Apr

The master and the apprentice: my class with Francesco Tonucci

Francesco Tonucci beside the director of UNAM-PUEC Dr.Alicia Ziccardi and other teachers from Univesidad Nacional Autónoma de México.


The psychologist, researcher, designer of cartoons for kids Francesco Tonucci, also the author of several books where his thinking has a strong connection to childhood experiences, yesterday held at the Palacio de Minería in Mexico City a talk about cities. The event was organized by PUEC-UNAM (Programa Universitario de Estudios Sobre la ciudad). Francesco alerted to the need of children’s participation in the construction of public space. For him, children can save the cities.

It was a very rich experience, to listen and rethink ideas about cities,  because urbanism hardly takes into account children’s participation. I had read in Jane Jacobs work a lot of criticism about playgrounds and the necessity of the streets for children’s leisures, because the streets she considered the eyes of neighborhood. However, Tonucci’s analysis is more current and deep. He said that cities have lost respect for themselves and commented: “After World War II, cities began to be built for someone and not for everyone. Men agree with cars because they are symbol of power. The path for pedestrians increasingly gives place to cars “. I reflected about my own experiences: in the cities of Latin America and Europe, where I lived, there were no children on the streets, I remember being tense trying to cross the streets of Sao Paulo. Always had a car ready to run over me.

Therefore I noticed the fact that there are fewer children walking or playing in the streets of our cities, because nowadays violence terrorizes people with the fear that goes from pickpockets to sociopaths. Is it possible to lose the fear? How to build a new space? According Tonucci is possible to revert this situation, but he warns: “excessive protection can be very very damaging to the process of maturing and learning of children, because they must live with strangers and learn to respond to situations of risk.” He adds: “children need to spend energy, and to make stupid things. There is time for everything! Accumulation of desire can lead to an explosion that happens in adolescence, resulting in serious problems such as bullying, alcoholism, motorcycle accidents and even youth suicide. “

Another major criticism is related to the aesthetics of the car. Right now came to my mind the image of the periférico in Mexico City. The periférico is a great viaduct (with Blade Runner aspect) that crosses several districts of the Federal District, and can not be used by public transport or by walking. Thus, I agree with Tonucci for criticizing the loss of importance of the pedestrian when the spaces are designed as architectural barriers:” there are inadequate ramps, walkways that seems to fly, absurd levels for people with mobility problems, and even for healthy people. We must be aware that it is the car that should be subordinated to pedestrians, and not vice versa”.

“Unfortunately, what we see in the daily life is the adaptation of places  prioritizing the use of the automobile”,said the speaker. To cite several examples of harmful results, Tonucci said: “the current society has serious problems conected with sedentary life, which contributes to the emergence of problems such as childhood obesity. Life expectancy has always increased over the years, but now research indicates it will decrease”.

During the lecture came a controversial comment about the excessive hours of children inside the house, “the children used to be on the streets, but now they are at home. Today the house is the most dangerous place for children, because most accidents take place within the home. ” I checked this data based on the World Health Organization, where I got the following information on the world’s population: 45% of accidents occur at home, 30% in public places, 14% at work, 10% on motorways. I fully agree with the expert saying: “the child who can’t leave home and is not able to play outside, will not be able to development their basic social skills.” It reminds me of tag game, hide and seek, dodgeball, skip the rope, hopscotch, which used to forced us to move on, and created strategies to win the game. Today kids replaced those games fby walking in the mall, playing video games, Internet, not to mention countless hours in front of the tv.

“Why children can not participate in city government? It was not a long time ago that the female participation was absurd in elections, things which we consider strange today, it can be very normal in a few years … It is necessary to support pedestrian and bicycle”,said the master at the end of the lecture. I believe we need to think collectively about space including children, so they can be responsible not only for them but also for others. It is necessary to teach that the city is collective. We have to relearn to use the public transport we need to demand from our government the right conditions for our sidewalks and bike lanes. Grazie Francesco Tonucci was a wonderful experience!

leave your comment

* Your comment


seven + = 11