Plan-It Earth

Last Friday I participated in Plan-It Earth, a student-organized forum that engaged about 120  high-school students in designing a sustainable future for the GVRD.

Facilitated by students at Prince of Wales Secondary with the help of Bruce Ford and Vanessa Lee from Metro Vancouver, participants were invited to look through the lenses of urban planners and decide where the next 10,000 people in the region should be located and what those communities should look like.  There was a lot of focus on building up instead of out and having work located close to home to reduce commute times and transit-related emissions.  Solutions to meet energy and food requirements were presented, and concerns about how to handle waste were expressed.  A number of innovative green technologies were highlighted, as well as the need for inclusive communities and education.

By mid-morning students were engaged in a variety of workshops.  Ian Marcuse presented a cob house demo, there was a student-led workshop on  backyard chickens, and Kevin Millsip presented the Vancouver School Board’s Sustainability Plan.  Amanda Mitchell engaged students in thinking about how the 10 goals of the City of Vancouver’s Greenist City 2020 Plan can be met, and I had students participate in a memory mapping exercise focused on their routes to and from school, with a focus on walking and active transportation.

After a lunch of organic locally sourced salad and pizza, it was time for City on the Wall.  An engagement process developed by architect Stanley King, the founder of Co-Design and a firm believer in the importance of engaging youth in urban planning and design processes.  Students were split into 10-12 groups, each with an artist to design their ideal livable community.  Most of these reiterated the values identified in the morning sessions with a focus on sustainable, complete communities that accommodate a range of daily activities and requirements within the radius of a few blocks.

During the Green Mapping workshop I was surprised to learn that a number of students don’t know the names of  streets in their neighbourhoods.  One participant commented that she doesn’t need to know street names because she knows where things are and has no need to remember the names.  I’m curious to know whether this a common occurrence? Not just with youth, but in general.  I can still fairly accurately recall the names of the streets in almost every neighbourhood I’ve lived in (and there have been many).  While some are a bit foggy, I think I could still draw a map and correctly label the streets of the neighbourhoods from my childhood and youth.

This was an incredibly inspiring and valuable experience.  I gained a lot of insight into the world of youth engagement, and look forward to doing more of it in the future.  Thank you everyone!


9 thoughts on “Plan-It Earth”

  1. Wow…so many of my favorite people doing such awesome stuff with youth! Thanks for sharing the experience, Natalie. It sounds incredibly educational.

    The streets comment is a funny one, because it means they’ve never had to tell someone else where to find them – possibly because they are using cellphones and able to communicate about landmarks in real time? Or perhaps they don’t navigate themselves? All sorts of intriguing possibilities.

  2. What a great opportunity to bring together such broad range or related methods and approaches! Wish I’d had workshops like that when i was in school.
    I’ve always found streets names to be pretty necessary for locating things and giving directions, but maybe that’s because I’ve always lived in fairly central neighbourhoods where I can walk to most of my destinations. If I were a distance commuter who just drives into my garage at the end of the work day then I’d probably be much less aware of my neighbourhood streets. Vancouver is a city that historically has brought the suburbs into the core—many nieghbourhoods within Vancouver proper look and feel a lot like suburbs with few amenities within walking distance. If there’s nowhere to go in your neighbourhood then there’s no point in knowing the street names, so maybe that contributes to a degree of street amnesia on the part of vancouverites. Also, in a world of foursquare where people increasingly navigate by geo coordinates it could be that street names are losing their functional importance.

  3. Hi Natalie: Thanks for keeping me updated. Just a point – the school is Prince of Wales (the country) rather than Whales (the mammal)! 🙂

  4. I’d like to add that it was not just students from Prince of Wales involved.

    We are very grateful that this conference was hosted by Prince of Wales Secondary, and many of the helpers on the ground were from Prince of Wales… but the youth committee who organized it came from 5 different schools: Churchill, Prince of Wales, St. Patrick, and Kitsilano Secondary schools. Core commitee members are Hobson Lin, Tesicca Truong, Veronika Bylicki and Grace Wicken. I was also part of the committee as their teacher sponsor. Mainly, my job was to feed them during our planning sessions, and to facilitate the implementation of their program at the school.

    Helpers from Churchill Secondary met the PW helpers for the first time on Thursday though the team had been in email contact before. One of the churchill students commented that “if we were all part of one school, we’d be unstoppable!”

    he core team is made up of ex trek students and a current PW student. They faced challenges including raising funding, finding workshop leaders, coordinating with Metro Van for the keynote activity and kickoff. As a result of their passion and enthusiasm, they managed to get the funding and support of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and Kevin Millsip, and from their peers from the Vancouver Foundation Youth Philanthropy Council.

    They inspired a donation of professional services and time from the architectural, design and facilitation firms: Stantec, Co-Design Group, Small Studios. Furthermore, they managed to stay within the budget they allocated.

    The student leaders demonstrated initiative, wisdom, and leadership. I am inspired by working with them.


  5. Thanks for clarifying Susan. I’d also like to thank you for your involvement and dedication to the students to make this possible. I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was in high school. Had I not met you last May, I may never have been a part of this event. Thank you for introducing my work to the students.

  6. I have to admit I prefer “Prince of Whales.” Incorrect though it may be, it does sound so much more majestic.

  7. Natalie, pleasure was all ours. your psychogeography is just the sort of thing I’d want to introduce to a biology class. Science and the arts ought to be merged in high school. students were happy to have you there to add to the variety of workshops. The AM workshops resulted in many co-design drawings with chickens and cob houses. Also rainbows.

    I forgot to say: core group teens included one more. they are:

    Veronika B, Tesicca T, Hobson L, Grace W. and Colin Cheng from Kits. I’m in awe of them. It would not surprise me to see great things from these young people in the future. Check out Hobs’ registration video for starters. filmed by Colin:

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