What happens when 24 middle school students realize that the design of the environment is powerful enough to make people healthy or gravely sick? They enroll in the iPlan Healthy Communities summer camp at Georgia Tech.
June 2015 was the second year of iPlan, and it proved to be an amazing five days of discovery, creative thought, and establishment of relationships between students from across Metro Atlanta and South Carolina. The diverse group of students were divided into teams with a single mission to create a health promoting redevelopment plan for a local neighborhood based on its transportation, land use, housing and community and economic development needs.
The week culminated with students presenting their recommendations in a community meeting and learning more about ways to build their skills in this arena through high school and into college.
A meeting with a community resident sheds light on the true needs of the community. Photo by Nisha Botchwey.
Beginning with introductions on Monday, the students were introduced to Cognitive Mapping, as described by Kevin Lynch in “The Image of the City” (MIT Press, 1960). Students then created and presented maps of their own neighborhoods, unearthing data through sites like the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Factfinder and the EPA’s Enviromapper. One student was disappointed to see how little diversity exists in her census tract despite having neighbors who are from all over the world, which allowed us to talk about scaling and population change.
A group of students sit in quiet reflection to create a cognitive map of their neighborhood. Photo by Nisha Botchwey.
Later, the four student teams completed scavenger hunts in two Atlanta neighborhoods, looking for sometimes elusive items like a crosswalk, a solar panel, a coffee shop or multiunit housing, while gaining an understanding of both neighborhoods from the resident’s perspectives. The 10,000-plus steps that the students took allowed them to compare the qualities of a low and a medium density neighborhood and gave them the opportunity to reflect on the elements necessary to create a walkable area.
The students were then able to meet with residents and planners to get a better understanding of the community’s vision for the future. These meetings were perhaps the most powerful for the students as they were faced with the decision to change their plans from installing ziplines and building ice cream and candy stores to aligning with the hopes of the community and its actual needs to promote a healthy population.
A field trip to a local community provided the opportunity to reflect on the elements necessary to create a walkable area. Photo by Nisha Botchwey.
Friday marked the exciting culmination of all the students' hard work, with a mad dash to complete the project and prepare brief presentations before the afternoon’s community meeting. The presentations were fantastic! One group suggested an above-ground monorail to expand transportation options for its public transit dependent community, while another group suggested the development of a new music venue to address its community’s lack of entertainment opportunities.
Proud parents filled the room, admiring the hard work and newfound knowledge that was made clearly evident from the strength of the student’s recommendations. The jam-packed crash course in urban planning and healthy community design proved to be an overwhelming success for the second year in a row, prompting new innovations and opportunities to make 2016’s iPlan summer camp an even greater success.
Check out our video from summer 2015 to learn more about the exciting things you’ll learn at iPlan Camp or visit our website.
The 2015 iPlan Team. Photo by Nisha Botchwey.
July 2016 Update
Check out a video about iPlan Camp 2015.
Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960.
About the Authors
Nisha Botchwey is an associate professor of city and regional planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is the creator of the iPlan summer camp. Nico Boyd is a master's candidate and graduate research assistant in the School of City and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The Kids Planning Toolbox is an ongoing series aimed at highlighting the way kids and teens are being involved in planning in their communities. Its goal is to inspire adults to think about how they can help the kids in their communities become the planners of tomorrow.
Top image: A team of students builds a model of an above-ground monorail for a transit-dependent community. Photo by Nisha Botchwey.