Community Planning

A Lesson in Planning – Our Team in Calgary Teaches Grade 3 Students About Communities

Over a hundred students at Herons Crossing Elementary in Airdrie, Alberta were recently treated to a presentation that helped them see their community–and possibly their future career options–in a whole new way.

The Grade 3 students are working on an Architecture and Planning unit, and their teacher reached out to Urban Systems to see if someone would talk to students about how architecture and design affects communities. She thought of Urban as we were deeply involved in the design and construction of Williamstown, the community the school is located in.

Brock Dyck, Lee Giddens and Ori Abara
Brock Dyck, Ori Abara and Lee Giddens work at Urban Systems in Engineering, Planning, and Landscape Architecture respectively. They agreed to present to the kids as a group and to run a fun activity to help them think about what’s essential to their community.

“Once we were asked to present, we came up with an idea and ran with it. I love that about working for Urban, we got such support in developing this presentation,” says Brock.

More Than Trees, Houses and Roads

On presentation day, the group explained to the students what each of their jobs involved, then took them through an overview of the work Urban had done in Williamstown.

They showcased how Urban helped build the playgrounds and pathways students use on a daily basis.

“They didn’t realized people had put years of planning time and work into getting things built,” says Brock. “We brought up some timeframes and one of the students commented ‘that was two years before I was born!’ it was pretty eye opening.”

Lee agreed: “We got to show kids what we do and how it affects their lives. After we had shown them construction photos from the time range when their community was being constructed; things like deep utility trenching, we had some fun questions like ‘are there still men underground? Are there still open trenches anywhere?’ They were really interested in all the utilities working under the roadways. They got to understand that a community is not just trees, houses and roads but see it at a larger scale and understand how much work goes into it.”

The Project

The kids were then given a task. They were presented with a base map with mountains and a river on it. They were then to plan out specific uses for a hypothetical community, from residential to commercial and industrial. They were encouraged to think about things like compatibility of usage, physical site constraints, river crossings, transportation and more. They got to use cut outs, glue and hand drawings to mock up their decisions on the maps. Once the maps were done, teams had five minutes to present their rationale to the group.

“They were buzzing during the activity!”

“They were buzzing during the activity!” says Brock. “One of the most interesting things was watching these groups of four to six students work in such a dynamic way. It was interesting to chat with the teachers who pointed out that in this setting some of the traditionally higher achieving students struggled whereas those who might typically have trouble with traditional book work were excelling. It was a cool project in that respect, it really hit on non-traditional aptitudes. This was such a neat way to build capacity into youth using the framework of their own community.”

Sample work from the Grade 3 Planners

For Ori, this day was also a great way to get kids interested in future career opportunities, and particularly for the girls to see women working in this field.

“There were a few presenters before our group went on but they were all men and the teachers mentioned that some of the female students had been wondering when there would be girls presenting. I think it’s pretty great that I can represent a field that maybe a little girl has never even thought about. It’s inspiring that we might be helping kids think about their future. When I was eight years old, no one talked about community the way we talk about it today. I didn’t even hear about Urban Planning until just before I was applying to university. This kind of presentation is important to create a pipeline for kids to grow into careers like ours. Who knows, they may be working at Urban one day.”

Lee agreed, recalling that when she was eight, she had no idea that this career was an option for her. “Exposure to professionals in the field is so important. It opens doors to so many possibilities and so much potential down the road.”

At the end of the day, the team agreed that it felt great to give back to a community that we have helped develop.

Brock says that it was standing behind the spirit in service for vibrant communities in a unique way. “It’s neat – here we were able to build this vibrant community, and then also continue to be involved when the traditional work is done. It felt really good and true to our vision at Urban.”

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