I contributed a post to the American Planning Association’s Kids Planning Toolbox about my involvement in a community planning curriculum and how it fit into the professional planning process.
Since 2011, La Crosse, Wisconsin, area planners have volunteered during National Community Planning Month on a community planning curriculum for a pod of seventh grade classes.
This curriculum incorporates multiple learning skills including public speaking, math, social studies, science, and art. The students used these skills in small groups to develop their plan for a 64-acre riverside brownfield redevelopment site.
Postponing the curriculum until April turned out to be a stroke of luck, providing the kids with a unique opportunity to create plans concurrent with the professional planning process. Student plans — some of which included amusement parks, zoos, and sports arenas — were on display at the charrette kickoff meeting and throughout the week at the design studio. The kids could compare their plans to the actual plan the professionals created and see some similarities.
The teachers and planners worked together to plan and facilitate the curriculum, and the students had only two weeks to come up with a site plan.
The curriculum started with a walking tour of the site, where planners explained the site’s relationship to the nearby uses and natural features. Next, a charrette consultant showed the students how to play Mixopoly, arranging a variety of scale block pieces to spark ideas for site plan drawings. The block pieces were useful for a lesson on scale and color coding before the students began their small individual maps. Aerial photography on their tablet computers were also a useful reference — they could see how much of a block their school, house, or favorite park occupied.
Once the students finished their small maps, the planners introduced a challenge. The mayor recorded a video message preventing any buildings within 100 feet of an endangered bird species’ habitat — their science class was learning about birds. They had to take this new requirement into consideration to make their dream sites work on the big map in their small groups.
Planners were in the classroom throughout this process to give ideas and answer questions. Because of the limited time, planners emphasized starting with an overall sketch for the site before filling in the detail. In some groups, students had focused on their own detailed sections of the map and ended up with gaps or incomplete sections when they finished. The planners judged the students’ designs based on connectivity, compatibility, comprehensiveness, conservation, and creativity. The “Top Award” winners presented their plans to the class, teachers, and volunteers.
Working with the kids on the curriculum helped with working with adults on the charrette as well. It offered practice for presenting information and answering questions that may come up in planning. The small maps the students used even worked as a comment form for stakeholders to draw ideas.
In the end, it was great to see some of the kids’ ideas in the professional plan, from docks, boardwalk, and man-made pond, to gardens, play areas, and natural landscaping.