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A New Initiative: Children’s Walks

November 14, 2019 by admin

Engaging and Recognizing Youth as Active Members of their Community

The purpose of this article is to introduce the APA Ambassador Program to members of Utah APA. Also demonstrate ideas of how planners can engage with their local community and inspire the next generation of planners through Children’s Walks.

To begin, my interest to involve children in planning did not occur overnight. Through my planning studies, conversations with others and research, I became aware of a division between children, nature, public health and planning. I have been seeking a way to close the divide ever since.

In the Fall of 2014, I was introduced to the Orton Foundation and the Heart and Soul Process. The Heart and Soul Process is not the traditional approach to planning and places a higher significance on “Value-Based Planning” and “Community Engagement”. More importantly to note is different age groups were involved as part of the engagement strategy, particularly that the strength of change often times came from children. Children were allowed in many cases to share their stories or bring projects to fruition.

In the Spring of 2015, I was working on my capstone project “Listening to Springdale” led by Professor Stephen Goldsmith. The project was noteworthy and received an APA Award in 2016. The biggest takeaway from the project was the art of listening. We discovered that listening as a tool in planning leads to insight and understanding. Listening can improve residents view of their voice in the community.

I soon after was acquainted with Jane Jacobs Walks through the Center of the Living City. Jane Jacobs Walk is a series of free neighborhood walking, biking, and transit tours that help put people in touch with their environment and with the people who live in their community. Jane Jacobs believed strongly that local residents understood best how their neighborhood works and what is needed to strengthen and improve them. By engaging and literature, the Director, Grant Allen and I became enthralled in the idea of involving children in planning and the mechanism of doing so.

In the intervening time, the American Planning Association reenacted the APA Ambassador Program as a pilot. The APA Ambassador Program is volunteer activity conducted by members of the American Planning Association with the goal of increasing awareness and understanding of the power and value that the planning profession brings to communities. Particular emphasis is placed on reaching audiences of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. As an Ambassador, you are tasked to conduct two events in a year span in which engage youth of all ages. The activity should include a conversation about basic concepts of planning and the planning profession, the benefits and value of APA and an activity that bring those concepts to a community and personal level.

To gain further understand of activities already in the making I participated in the Discover Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah and Box City (Riverton). I quickly realized involving children in the planning process is not a new concept, such is the reason for community youth councils. The interesting takeaway from these activities was the fact that a strong desire to be involved exists and that children have a creative mind to do so.

To complete my research, I was placed in touch with the United Way of Salt Lake and invited to discuss “Planning as a Career” to their After-School Program at South Kearns Elementary. As I introduced basic concepts of planning the idea of “Walking” was at the center of our discussion. I asked simple questions such as:

  • What do you see when you walk?
  • Where is your favorite place to walk to?
  • What would you take pictures of?
  • What makes you happy?
  • When you walk are their places that make you scared?
  • What is your favorite route to school? Why?

The outcome and their answers were monumental. They were more than willing to share their stories. Not only were the students faced with safety issues on a daily basis but they noticed lack of infrastructure in their built environment to walk to school. As expected their neighborhood perspective was on point but they lacked the opportunity to have ever known regional landmarks. The idea of City Creek, The Gateway, Temple Square was extraneous to them. Leaving the school, I was in dismay. Finally, the idea of Children’s Walks was born. I wanted to give the children the opportunity.

In the Summer of 2016, I held the first official Children’s Walk of downtown Salt Lake City. Partnering with the Utah Chalk Festival and Jane Jacobs Walk, the idea was to create a mural based on what the children learned or observed through the walk. Along the walk we discussed Economics, Transportation, Urban Design, Environmentalism, Public Places, the SLC Grid System and Urban Ecology (Systematic Thinking). One may think those are quite complex planning concepts however I was surprised how relatable they were for children and parents alike. The outcome of the event was a success. The Children’s Chalk Drawings were placed on display for the remainder of Chalk Festival therefore giving back to the community.

Most recently, my Community Development Director, Paul Allred challenged me to bring the focus inward and apply the idea of Children’s Walks in our local community in Holladay. Backed by the City Manager and City Council I conducted a children’s walk on August 5, 2017. The focus of the walk was to tour the Village Area and other local amenities. Our Senior Planner presented the history of Holladay and how the community has changed to the group. After leaving the local library, we headed to the bike shop where the children learned about bicycle safety and bike lanes. The key for me as a planner was to observe and listen. The walk was great to spur the neighborhood walks program and a similar event is already planned for next year.

Children’s Walks are a great way to engage children of all ages in their local communities but also is a strategic way for planners to receive feedback and be involved. Children benefit by learning about the forces the shape our towns and cities and how they can get involved to improve our built and natural environments. Children’s Walks present an active lifestyle and can improve public health. It presents parents with an opportunity hear what children see and feel. Children’s Walks can be used to introduce children to new places such as downtown. Jane Jacob’s believed sidewalks should serve as a place of safety for children and a place to make friendships. The APA Ambassador Program is national initiative that I am grateful to be a part of. I am grateful to inspire the next generation of planners. I would challenge other cities and towns to conduct Children’s Walks of their own and register them with Jane Jacobs Walks.

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