EarthFest 2015 Recap – Youth Engagement and Planning

EarthFest 2015

“If you could do whatever you wanted with this lot, what would you do and why?”  David, age 9, responded, “I would plan a kingdom so that I could be king.”  If only we could all have the visionary powers to dream up a kingdom like David (and if only it were that easy)!  Along with David, hundreds of curious young visitors stopped by the APAPA-SE activity booth at Temple University’s EarthFest 2015 at the Ambler Campus on Friday, April 24th.  They each were prompted to respond to that same question we asked David.

An annual event, EarthFest promotes environmental awareness to elementary and middle school students from across the region.  Continuing a multi-year tradition, APAPA-SE hosted a booth to support the effort.  This year, we engaged our young visitors in a planning activity to give them a very basic idea of what planners do on a regular basis. Using an enlarged aerial map of the Ambler Campus, we showed students exactly where on the map they were standing.  We then described the surrounding land uses to help them think about what else they’d like to see on the field where the event was taking place.  Finally, we asked them to respond to this question:  What would I plan for this lot and why?

It was amazing to see the variety of responses we received from these young people – it was almost like hosting a town hall meeting.  Some were as imaginative as David, while others took the opposite approach and wanted to preserve the land “as is”.  Some were inspired by the chilly winter-like weather and wished for a store that sold coats and socks.  The best part was that they really seemed to enjoy the activity.  At first it was a little surprising to see young people bickering over who got the next Sharpie to respond to the question, but we soon realized that they each wanted their ideas and voices to be heard!

What was most wonderful about this experience is that as professional planners, we had an opportunity to engage local students in a light-hearted yet meaningful dialogue about the important work we as planner do every day.  And, who knows, perhaps we inspired a whole new cohort of APA planners!

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