In July, as an APA Ambassador I was lucky enough to facilitate a workshop on urban planning and urban design with the Octavia Project in Brooklyn, New York.
Created in 2015, the Octavia Project is a nonprofit program that uses the lens of science fiction and fantasy to help teen girls in Brooklyn explore science, technology, world building, and creative writing.
The program's inspiration and namesake is Octavia Butler, the ground-breaking science-fiction author whose writing was grounded in social justice and imagining futures with a multitude of voices and perspectives.
Over the course of half a day, we discussed the different parts of a city, from buildings, to parks and transportation, to regulations — such as charters and zoning — that control what can happen in a city. We also talked about our favorite and least favorite places in New York City and how the built environment can make us feel welcome or unwelcomed.
A common theme that arose among the teenagers was the desire for spaces that are open, green, and well-designed.
Students in the Octavia Project workshop discussed their favorite and least favorite places in New York City. Photo by Daphne Lundi.
In addition to talking about the elements of a city, we also explored the ways in which cities are created. I used Celebration, Florida, the city that was master-planned by the Walt Disney Company, and Kibera, Kenya, a 100-year-old informal community outside Nairobi, Kenya, as case studies to discuss planned and unplanned cities.
Students in the Octavia Project workshop draw site plan for a planned city. Photo by Daphne Lundi.
Students in the Octavia Project workshop create a charter for an imaginary city. Photo by Daphne Lundi.
To visualize the difference between planned and unplanned cities, the teens created a city charter for an imaginary city and created site plans of the city using their charter regulations.
Students using watercolors to highlight different parts of their unplanned cities. Photo by Daphne Lundi.
A collection of maps from planned and unplanned imaginary cities created for the Octavia Project. Photo by Daphne Lundi.
As people born and raised in New York, these teenagers were acutely aware of the city's built environment and the spatial and socioeconomic disparities that exist. In planning their own cities, they incorporated many urban planning best practices, such as transit-oriented design, affordable housing, and sustainability as a means to ensure that their cities were open, well-designed, and accessible.
To learn more about the Octavia Project and support its work, please visit octaviaproject.org.
About the Author
Daphne Lundi is an urban planner focused on climate resilience and neighborhood planning at the NYC Department of City Planning. She has a history of volunteer work that includes serving as a planning commissioner, on a historic foundation board, and in many leadership roles within APA.