#151. Getting Youth Involved in Planning

Posted on | The Agurban
Getting Youth Involved in Planning

Involving children and youth in community planning decisions is an important way to introduce their needs and desires into the process. Typically, this is not done for a variety of reasons. Often, adults discount the value of involving children and youth; they believe young people lack the knowledge required for building communities. It is, after all, “serious business.” However, this view neglects several important factors.

First, leaving children out of the equation has led to the development of many “people-UNfriendly” places. One need only take a walk down just about any commercial street built since the 1950s to see that walking and bicycling are not encouraged. Yet bicycling and walking are kids’ only independent means to get around. The implicit message those places “send” is that only those in cars are welcome. Kids may be welcome in the area, but only if they are driven. A child might live less than a block from an ice cream shop, for instance, but may have to cross a 5-lane arterial street to get there. And there may be inadequate — or no — crosswalks or sidewalks along the way.

Second, young people may have detailed information on what’s wrong and what’s right in their neighborhoods. There may be a body of knowledge among youngsters in an area that could be very useful in neighborhood planning. Kids often know about — and use — shortcuts to nearby places. Since they may be home more often than their parents, they might have done some wandering around, checking out what routes go where.

The kids’ “information bank” may include:

  • – the locations of dangerous dogs
  • – where people who frighten them live
  • – where friends live
  • – where good climbing trees are located
  • – the home of an elderly woman who bakes the best cookies
 In one Northwestern town, a development was proposed that would sever a popular walking route for kids going to the nearby elementary school. Officials at the school told planning department staff about the walking route. Staff members then followed up by checking recent aerial photos. These showed the route very clearly. As a result, the planning office insisted that the developer provide a path through his development and, after much rancor, he agreed. When the time came to sell the parcels and build the houses, the first to be sold were adjacent to the path and the others sold quickly, as well. The developer became an ardent believer in providing trails in his future projects.

Don’t ignore what kids can bring to your community planning process. Whichever approach is taken, involving kids and their parents can help create more kid-friendly environments and more physically active kids. If our kids have a tie to their neighborhoods and communities, maybe we can begin to alleviate some of the brain drain in our small towns.

Excerpted from Active Facts at www.active livingresources.org