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Bring maps of your town, and have them tell you:
- where they live
- what is special about their neighborhood
- places in town they dislike, and why
- other places in town they consider special, and why.
You'd be amazed at what the kids can teach us these days.....
I recently did this for my stepdaughter's third grade class.
I told them:
- basically planners make sure the city "runs right" and "looks right" for the people who live there,
- the comp plan is the wish list for how we want the city to be,
- that zoning is the set of laws we use to make sure that the city and the buildings in it fit into the plan,
- that planners use the zoning laws to look over the building designs to make sure they "run right" and "look right", and
- planners give advice to elected officials so they can do their job better.
And I emphasized that planners do all this on behalf of all people in a community.
I taught Junior Achievement students about planning once a week for 6 months....
...they like maps and finding where they live....
... also talking about landmarks in the City where they have all visited (in this case it was a lake in the center of the City)....
... free stuff (pens, pencils)....
... designing a neighborhood as a group....
Don't be nervous.... they are going to be happy to have somebody other than their teacher speaking to them.
I did this for 7th and 8th graders a few years ago. I filled in last minute for someone else so I didn't have any cool maps or anything. It was a career day so I talked about what I do on a given day, what issues my city is facing, what planners study in school, and brought up planning issues in their town. These kids chose to attend the City Planning presentation so they were pretty attentive and polite. I came up with a list of planning related websites that might be interesting to a 12 year old. I even got a few thank you letters from the kids.
To add to Chet's suggestion, don't forget to tell the kids that houses on lots under 25,000 sq. ft. are an invitation for welfare mothers and gangbangers, otherwise known as "those people."
Just don't mention killing kittens, numerology (especially the importance of the number 3), the town next door...
Seriously, give the kids a few minute lesson on planning and zoning, then give them a map of your town and ask them where they think things should go. Then show them a map of where things actually are and explain why the town the way it is, without being to demoralizing or blunt..
I guess I would try to find an example of a place that kids like, such as a fun restaurant, or even a hypothetical place. Start off by saying something like "Suppose a bike store wanted to come to town..." You could then tell them how to use zoning and future land use maps to see where the store could go, then tell them some of the things you review like parking, how the building looks, and the engineering specifications of the stormwater retention pond . Then go over the steps like Plan Commission review, etc.
I think the visioning is a good idea... kids have awesome ideas! If you have ever done a "visual preference survey", it's fun to run the slides for the kids to show them the difference between good planning/community design and bad (and to get their opinions).
If you have maps or drawings that they can color as part as an exercise... like a site plan where they can tell you where the trees are and where the parking is... it helps them use maps.
Tell them that Republicans are the root of evil because they like to get rid of trees, not provide enough funding for the social services programs and or quality of life programs, such as cutting park and library budgets, they like to ruin the environment, and they'll do anything to get another vote.
Then tell them to take a look around while they drive in a car with their parents, all of the ugly signs blighting the public streets, bad traffic, lack of sidewalks, and ugly subdivisions are because politicians do not listen to planners - therefore our world is not as pretty as it could be.
People who live in gated communities are snobs, so don't be friends with them.
(Well at least that has been my experience.)
Positive things to talk about: (Brainwashing early is so great!)
Planners create the world; we make it a better place.
Geography is all around us, so pay attention to your teachers.
Historic/archaeological preservation are keys to our past, so pay attention to your history teachers.
We get to play with cool computer programs like GIS.
the key is balance... not to much interactivity because they'll feel presured and uncomfortable, not to much speaking, slides, movies and stuff like that because they'll get bored.
make it simple and make it brief
I usually start with "There was a poll done recently (OK, maybe it was quite a few years ago) where Americans voted for the best town/city. Guess what won?" They name NY, Washington, etc., then I tell them the answer is Mayberry. Then it's usually easy to get the discussion going about what they think makes a "good" town or "bad" town. Another way is to talk about uses they can relate to, like McDonald's, a skate park, mall, etc., and where they should go, and why.
Definitely make it interactive. Kids love math, so why not bring in a few problems for them to solve, like
- calculate the unit density of a proposed development
- calculate FAR and lot coverage
- estimate the coverage of an existing gravity sewer, given the present depth and a topographic map
- prepare a financial pro forma, including cash flow, for a TIF development, calculating the costs of acquisition, infrastructure, E/A/C, and development costs, value and tax increment, aassuming amortization of a fifteen-year bond at 4.05%.
Kids love math.
At my former place of employment, we always had school tours and we would ask one of them for their address and bring it up on GIS, then we would turn on the orthophoto layers, floodplains, etc. The kids really liked it. Since you are going there that may not be possible.
How much time do you have? Maybe you could have them design their own mini-city in groups and explain what works and what doesn't.
Then tell them that mommy and daddys house is blighted and will soon be replaced with a new office park.
Tell them a planning joke. Like a bunch of planners were asked to measure the height of a flag pole. They were using architect's scales, falling off ladders. The whole thing was a mess. Then an engineer came along, pulled the flagpole out of the ground, measured it with a tape measure, and gave the measurement to the planners.
"Isn't that just like an engineer," said one of the planners. "We ask for the height, and he gives us the length."
Being married to a teacher, I explained how we used math, science, history, language, etc. in our work. Conversation took off when we got on environmental issues. They all knew about litter and wasting water. And acting dumb and stupid really helps.
Thanks for the advice. It actually went pretty well. Apparently they thought they could relate to me - when he introduced me as Mrs. and a couple of them said I didn't look old enough to be married and asked how old I was. I answered (29) and they said I looked 18.
Most of the kids were great, but there were a couple a-holes. Oh well, one in every bunch.