Denmark is not a nation that resists youth participation — think of Greta Thunberg. But Billund, a town of 27,000 in the middle of the country, has taken this concept much further. Here it’s the kids who frequently initiate and have a say about projects that impact their community.
In 2020, Billund became the first Danish city to join almost a thousand others around the world as a UNICEF Child Friendly City. These are communities who have committed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which means emphasizing principles like non-discrimination, equity, and a focus on a child’s best interests. But Billund has taken this a step beyond the others to create an environment that serves everyone by pushing family fun and empowering its children.
Why Billund? This is where Legos were invented in the 1940s by toy manufacturer Ole Kirk Christiansen. Now there is the Legoland Castle Hotel, a Lego House with robots, and a Legoland theme park. So it was a short step intellectually to partner the Lego Foundation (the company’s charitable arm) with the municipal government, plus 11 other partners who provide financial support and expertise. The result is the Capital of Children, founded in 2010, which believes that children are just as capable as adults. One practical result has been the first International Children’s General Assembly (CGA) which brought 20 students from around the world to Billund last September to discuss 10 global issues, including gender equity, digital access, and mental health.
In addition to helping residents, this approach has drawn a lot of tourists. And if tourists find appeal in a safe community, imaginative play structures, and citizens who are open to innovation, that’s a win, thinks Charlotte Sahl-Madsen, CEO of Capital of Children. “We are very inspired by the children, but we do it for everyone.”
For more information, see “In the Town that Lego Built, Kids Rule for the Day” by Heather Greenwood Davis (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/in-the-town-that-lego-built-kids-rule-for-the-day?).