Planning for children, by children

Photo credit: StoreFrontLab.org

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve come across on the American Planning Association website that are meant for planners who are targeting children as key components to the development of a community plan. I find it odd that amongst the buzz of community engagement and participatory work that there is not more of a push from the parents, stakeholders, or planners for that matter to get more youth involved in the process. Of course there are planners out there who are utilizing the brilliant minds of children for unique and creative approaches to development of cities and what’s in them (here’s a great example). Frankly however, I don’t think we talk about it enough. As a learning planner, all of the literature I’ve come across when it comes to engaging with the community for input has been specifically directed at attaining opinions and ideas from adults. Yes that’s important, but what about the kids? If it’s the children who will someday be the future planners and inhabitants of the current neighborhoods, streets and developments we’re producing, then shouldn’t we do more to engage them and build a better place with their wants and needs in mind?

Through my perusal of the APA site, I found an entire page devoted to planning with children in mind and also part of the process. On the education page there is an entire Youth and Teachers sub-page that provides a few resources for how to get children engaged in the planning process, understand what a planner does, and even teach city planning and engagement strategies to youth from curriculums. The curriculums are downloadable and obviously can be modified, but are great places to start for planners who want to visit schools to get student’s input but don’t have an idea on how to get started. Also, the fact that you could inspire children to some day be future planners is just awesome, along with that you’ll be connecting with people in the community that matter who typically don’t have as much of a way to be “heard”: teachers and children.

Metropolis: A Green City of Your Own is one curriculum meant for grades 3-6, produced by a third grade teacher and planner:

Packed with illustrations and exercises, it is intended for use by elementary classroom teachers and other adults who seek to expose children to a variety of urban forms from around the world. The city elements presented in the lessons are edges, districts, public spaces, landmarks, and transportation — taken from Kevin Lynch’s book Image of the City. These elements provide an organizing mechanism for children to design their own ideal cities.

The Urban Natural Guide is a re-printable document that allows planners to interact with a community of their choice through probing questions based off of Jane Jacobs’s style of inquiry. These simply approachable questions challenge you to look at the surroundings, and can be adopted to help children tell what they notice and value also. There’s a City Detective lesson plan that definitely seems more suited for children in middle school or high school, but the plan is completely able to be scaled down for K-5. This plan would be a great “plug” for planning, geography and design careers to children through mapping and history. Finally, the resource printout is a great reference for how to incorporate planning activities in the classroom at every grade level (beginning with grade 4) and also has resources for interested teachers. You can read Youth Participation in Community Planning to find supplementary materials and ideas for how to engage with youth in their communities in appropriate but valuable ways, and see where it’s been done well! APA even has their own blog just for youth engagement planning- check it out at Kid’s Planning Toolbox.

Happy planning!

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