Box City @FSU – Engaging and Inspiring Local Children in Florida

“My kids loved Box City! They created their own city while learning about urban planning. It was such an amazing experience! Thanks FSU Department of Urban & Regional Planning!”
— Ms. Jones, 4th Grade Teacher at Havana Magnet School

By introducing youth to community planning and design principles, Box City is raising awareness of the planning profession at an early age and inspiring children to become more involved in the planning of their own communities. The Florida State University (FSU) Department of Urban and Regional Planning’s Box City program connects urban planning graduate students with elementary school students in underserved communities in Leon County, Florida. Inspired by elements of the Center for Understanding the Built Environment (CUBE)’s curriculum, FSU’s Box City Program is tailored to the local land use planning context in Florida and the specific educational needs of Leon County children.

Children participating in the APA Ambassador program Box City.

In coordination with the American Planning Association (APA)’s Ambassadors Pilot Program, FSU’s Box City team facilitated engagement with racially and ethnically diverse youth through a series of fun, interactive, and educational workshops. In November 2015, the APA Ambassadors team hosted two workshops at Havana Magnet School in Havana, Florida. This school is located in a rural community and over 94% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Children enthusiastically answer question during the APA Ambassador Box City program.

The events took place over the course of two days with groups of over 25 third and fourth grade students. Age-appropriate lesson plans and corresponding activities were created for the following planning-related subjects:

  • Introduction to Urban Planning,
  • Electing a Name for the City,
  • Land Use/Zoning,
  • Transportation Planning,
  • Planning for Public Health,
  • Urban Design, and
  • LULUs & NIMBYs.

Instruction during the APA Ambassador's Box City program in Florida.

As elementary school students are tasked to develop their own classroom communities out of cardboard boxes and other art materials, the FSU Box City workshop fosters team-building skills and promotes group collaboration. The model city began as a bed sheet painted with a grid-system of roads and a river. After each planning concept was introduced to the class, groups of 4-5 elementary students were given planning-related activities to complete.

For example, each student chose a specific building (e.g., a  movie theater, restaurant, single-family home) to create and decorate using boxes and craft supplies. The students designated areas of the sheet as their city’s land use zones, and after much discussion and deliberation similar to an actual planning process, they placed their buildings in the appropriate zone (residential, commercial, industrial, public, and green spaces).

A student poses for a photo during the APA Ambassador's Box City program.

Additional exercises allowed the students to decorate their Box City with trees and vegetation, toy cars, and miniature traffic signs. By the end of the event, the elementary school students had voted for the name of their city, designated land use zones, constructed buildings, and completed their own unique Box City.

Students during APA Ambassador's program Box City.

The Florida State University APA Ambassadors found it inspiring to speak to young students about cities and to introduce them to the urban planning profession. Before these interactions, none of the elementary school students knew what urban planning was. They were unaware of how cities function and that there are people who make decisions about how urban areas grow and change over time.

We are confident that our activities improved their understanding of the built environment and we hope that into the future, these students will consider the field of urban and regional planning as an exciting career opportunity.

Group photo of students who participated in FSU and the APA Ambassador's program Box City.

2015-2016 Florida State University APA Ambassadors Team

Mavrick Fitzgerald
Hannah King
Melanie Marques
Sophee Payne
Michael Schilling
Yes Segura
Michael Sherman
Sarah Vitale
Alexandria Washington


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!

To learn more about the APA Ambassadors program visit www.planning.org/ambassadors/ and follow #APAAmbassadors.

All photos by Yes Segura.


May 16, 2016