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Unleashing a Generation of Young Urbanists in Toronto
This summer, as a part of the Active Neighbourhoods project, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) rolled out an innovative summer camp for kids age 10-13. The concept was to teach kids to think like designers, to give them a real life problem and guide them to solve it. It is believed that if they are exposed to urban planning history and theory through examples, they will have a deeper understanding about the way urban form influences our physical and social habits, and will be more likely to push for safe pedestrian environments and public spaces. With common tools and practices from urban design and planning, our camp unleashed the bold creativity of young minds to address complex problems.
This type of education, common in design fields stresses self-led discovery and a focus on real world issues. Each student, or group of students is given the same urban site and is taken through a series of exercises to deepen their understanding of the physical environment and the various factors influencing it. They are then tasked with addressing some of the issues of the site through assignments that teach them how to display their design ideas in different ways.
We began with activities and discussions around key urban concepts, and a viewing of the short film ‘Saga City’: a concise animated history of the last 50 years of North American urban planning described through the story of a fictional town. With this knowledge, the kids explored the site and the neighbourhood with their new perspective. They were then challenged to improve the design of the site for our most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists. This all started with a mapping exercise where they were given a legend of common urban amenities to place within the site. Building on this, they made larger scale plans with more design detail which they were able to use to translate into perspective views of their designs and finally, three-dimensional models. These activities moved from constrained to open-ended, and from simple modes of expression to more complex ones which helped guide the kids while also opening them up to creative problem solving.
The camp was a great success. The kids brought a fresh perspective on their neighbourhoods and were not afraid to try out crazy ideas such as a localized garbage and recycling system ‘monster’ that ate garbage and produced useful items, and a public space supported by walkways hovering above a busy main intersection. They also had great ideas about the community and the schools sharing outdoor space and more practical ones about better lighting and more accessible crosswalks.
The curriculum of the camp was developed together with Architecture for Humanity and with the guidance of urban education specialist, Josh Fullan, Director of Maximum City. The camp was run by the researcher and community animator Mikey Bennington, designer Car Martin and support from Amitis Nouroozi, a volunteer from the local chapter of Architecture for Humanity.
Written by Car Martin, TCAT
Photo Captions :
- Looking at a 3D model of the site before going out to explore. (photo credit: Amitis Nouroozi)
- Our young urbanists presenting their design solutions. (photo credit: Amitis Nouroozi
- A perspective drawing of a green roof, pedestrian walkway and ramp system over a busy intersection. (photo credit: Mikey Bennington)