UOC-led project aims to improve public spaces in cities to benefit neurodivergent children

A project led by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and involving Barcelona City Council, the Global Institute of Neurodevelopment Integrated Care (IGAIN) and LEMUR urban emergency laboratory aims to improve public spaces in cities to benefit neurodivergent children – minority groups of children with neurological differences, and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in particular. The initiative, called ASD-BCNeuroinclusiva: activating spaces with neurodivergent group and funded by the European Union's New European Bauhaus program, aims to provide solutions to create more inclusive spaces for this group.

Despite the progress that has been made in this area in recent years, children with autism still face difficulties in using and enjoying urban public spaces. The lack of more inclusive spaces means that their risk of social exclusion is more acute, and that these children may miss out on the opportunity to play outside. Various studies have shown the multiple sensory motor, emotional and social benefits of contact with nature among children with ASD, as it reduces their anxiety levels and enhances their sensory skills."

Blanca Calvo, principal researcher of the project, member of the Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory (TURBA) at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)

The project explores innovative design strategies that link inclusive play with nature and aesthetics, and it will provide urban planning professionals with methods and tools for designing sustainable play areas for and with the community of people with autistic spectrum disorder. "At the Gran Clariana park in Barcelona's Plaça Glòries, BCNeuroinclusive will be developing a performative co-creation methodology that provides an experience of space involving experiments with the body, play and other creative ways of exploring multi-sensoriality and connectivity with space through aesthetic appreciation," said the researcher.

The project uses an interdisciplinary approach in order to achieve its goals, which includes urban planning and design, social sciences, education, health and the arts. The aim is to reimagine and transform play areas in cities in order to provide design guidelines that can be implemented in any other city or country in Europe based on the experience in Barcelona.

This new UOC project, which began in July, will come to an end in December 2022, and the results will be announced at two presentations in January 2023. The initiative was presented as part of the European Commission's call entitled Co-creation of public space through citizen engagement of the EIT New European Bauhaus Community – a campaign that falls within the objectives of the European Green Deal approved in 2020.

Project partners

The main partner in the project is the Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory (TURBA) at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), a laboratory with extensive experience in coordinating European co-creation projects. These include PERFORM, COOLSCHOOLS, T-Factor and EPSN.

Barcelona City Council is taking part in the project through its Ecology, Urban Planning, Infrastructures, and Mobility Office, working with the Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities (IMPD) and the Institute of Childhood and Adolescence.

Another partner is the Global Institute of Neurodevelopment Integrated Care (IGAIN), a leading Spanish center in the diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders. It provides training for ASD professionals and accreditation for ASD diagnostic instruments in America and Europe, as well as evidence-based treatment for people with ASD throughout their lives.

Finally, another partner in the project is LEMUR urban emergency laboratory, an international interdisciplinary association that creates community spaces for well-being and fosters ecological and social transitions through educational and research initiatives, integrating architecture and environmental engineering. Examples of its projects include Arrels (Roots), El cos de la casa (The Body of the House), De l'escola al mercat (From School to Market) and La pell de la ciutat a Glòries (The Skin of the City in Glòries).

This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goals: 10 Reduced Inequalities and 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

ASD-BCNeuroinclusiva: activating spaces with neurodivergent group is an EIT Community New European Bauhaus project supported by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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