Fall is that time of year when we all look forward to flannel shirts, pumpkin everything, and City Planning Day in School! Okay, maybe it’s just me who looks forward to flannel shirts.
I am a city planner, and fall always meant that I’d get to step away from my desk and meetings, and visit a local middle or high school to talk about my line of work and teach kids about it and what it might mean to them in their day-to-day lives. Planning Day in School was a thing, before the pandemic. It gave my fellow planners and me a chance to interact with children and expose them to topics not many folks think about regularly, or ever.
City Planning, Huh?
What is a city planner? Great question. I don’t have an easy answer, though. At the graduation ceremony when I received my Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, the speaker – the Director of the local Planning Department – told us that his mother still wasn’t sure what he did after 25 years in the field. He told us to get used to it. I have spent the past 15 years trying to come up with my elevator speech. It changes depending on the audience. One of the best analogies I have made is that I am a social worker for cities: I connect local decision-makers with the information, tools, and funding they need to create healthy, self-sustaining communities. Also, you can refer to the popular tv show, Parks and Recreation. I have played many of those characters’ roles, specifically that of Leslie Knope.
Currently, I work as a consultant helping communities build safe and easy ways for people to get around via means other than their car: walking, biking, and using public transit to get to where they need and want to go. And, no, I don’t work for Memphis, and I can’t help fix a pothole on your street or stop your neighbor from putting bulk waste on your lawn – there’s another city planner to take care of that. Actually, it would be the street maintenance crew and the code enforcement department you’d be needing. But I digress…
Now you’re wondering Where is she going with this? I’m getting to the best day of this fall: Planning Day in Home School! Many of you are struggling to keep up with life right now, and the demands of virtual school, the afterschool activities, and even entertaining kids who aren’t of school age. I’m here to offer you some ideas on a new topic to integrate into learning and playtime: city planning!
Planning Day in Home School will give you the opportunity to learn about city planning with your children, play in new ways, and enter into meaningful conversations about related topics. The ways our neighborhoods are built and function relate directly to efforts such as the US Census, political decisions such as those influenced by the upcoming presidential and local elections, and societal inequities (think race, gender, age, income).
When was the last time you asked your kids why they think the park is located where it is, how they’d prefer to get to school every morning and why, or what kind of building do they think is being built on that empty lot? Probably not recently, or maybe even ever. These are the types of questions I ask myself and people all the time as part of my work. I realize it doesn’t come as naturally to others.
Planning Day in Home School Resources
I mentioned that Planning Day in School was a thing. Plus, a focus of my field is to engage people in planning efforts who are often unseen and unheard; kids fit into that. So, there are a lot of resources out there for curricula, games, events, and more. I’m going to list a few to start.
- YEP! (Youth Engagement Planning) offers a free Planning Day in School curriculum geared toward grades K -12 that most adults could easily adapt to in-home application. They also compiled this reading list for “advanced students” which would be best for late middle and high schoolers, and even adults. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is a book that had a huge impact on me and my dedication to environmental protection.
- The American Planning Association (APA) has a bevy of resources, too, for teaching young people about planning. One simple idea that keeps in line with the most popular activities of 2020/COVID-19 is a Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt template. They also offer a variety of free toolkits and curricula on planning-related topics.
- Planetizen has a bunch of articles related to children and planning. Many topics are probably most relevant to the adult/s in the household, but they might be appropriate for advanced and more mature learners. Some interesting articles focus on creating equitable cities for children, and how LeBron James is encouraging kids to ride a bike.
Adults Will Learn and Have Fun, Too
Research has shown that kids – and adults – learn best when they are playing. I’m here to say that there are a bunch of games we and our kids play that are about city planning! You can now strike up conversations with your family about it, and they will either dive right in without realizing it, or be annoyed with you forever.
Here is a list of games – both board and video, books, and toys that are very city planning-centric: https://www.planetizen.com/node/82488/gift-ideas-young-future-urban-planner-your-life. Some highlights, in my opinion, are Sim City, Ticket to Ride, and LEGO (although some city planners disagree about this one).