Over 36 million children aged six and under live in Indian cities. Studies indicate that a child’s access to a safe, stimulating public realm significantly influences healthy childhood development. Yet Indian cities pose many challenges for families, including a lack of open, green spaces for children and caregivers; long, unpredictable and dangerous travel routes; and pollution and poor sanitation. Indeed, more than 8 million Indian children under six reside in urban slums, lacking infrastructure and services. Exposure to such high-stress environments during early years can have lifelong impacts on a child’s cognitive, health and behavioral outcomes. 

Improving cities for infants, toddlers and their caregivers helps children develop to their full potential, while also making quality of life in cities better for everyone. With India’s urban population expected to double by 2050, this approach offers an opportunity to align the country’s rapid urbanization with more accessible, inclusive and safer infrastructure for a more resilient and sustainable future. 

The Nurturing Neighbourhoods Challenge is a three-year, phased initiative that aims to enhance the health and wellbeing of infants, toddlers and their caregivers. The initiative works with Indian city agencies and their partners to improve public space, mobility, neighborhood planning, access to early childhood services and data management. 

The Challenge is hosted by the Smart Cities Mission of the Indian Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, in collaboration with the Bernard van Leer Foundation, with WRI India as technical partner. 

The overall strategy is to work with city managers, engineers, urban planners, urban designers, architects and other practitioners to incorporate a focus on early childhood development into the design, planning and management of cities. In phase 1, WRI India focused on sensitizing a large number of cities across the country to the Infant, Toddler, Caregiver-Friendly Neighbourhood Framework through an open call for applications, outreach and capacity building. Over 60 cities prepared proposals for neighborhood-level pilot projects, which were evaluated by an independent expert panel. Twenty-five shortlisted cities were then supported to enhance their proposals, build consensus, and demonstrate early wins by implementing tactical trials and pilots. Over seven months, these cities implemented 70+ pilot projects to improve neighborhood public spaces, benefiting approximately 100,000 children aged zero to five.

In January 2022, following jury evaluation, 10 winning cities were announced: Bengaluru, Hubballi-Dharwad, Indore, Jabalpur, Kakinada, Kochi, Kochima, Rourkela, Vadodara and Warangal. In phase 2, the selected cities will receive technical assistance and capacity-building to implement and scale up interventions over the next two years. This will involve mainstreaming an early childhood lens in their projects, policy, budgets, institutional structures and urban development processes to cater to the needs, behavioral barriers and constraints faced by young children, caregivers and pregnant women. The project is also building a peer-to-peer platform for sharing best practices and learning from the experiences of other cities.