City’s public school outreach increasing urban planning knowledge

One recent afternoon, Dallas Academy students with dyslexia and ADHD used colored pens and game pieces to imagine a new future for their city: one with trails, landscaping, public parks and a variety of mixed use development options

The session was part of an ongoing City of Dallas outreach to students with reading, writing and math processing challenges and learning disorders. The 10th graders at Dallas Academy actively engaged an aerial map of a nearby under-developed intersection during one visioning exercise.

An attention-grabbing Sim City game video helped draw the students into the history of planning in the United States, taking them through the various aspects of current, long-range, zoning and transportation planning. Three D videos and Google aerial maps transported them into Dallas neighborhoods, where views of buildings and streets were transformed into new building façades, bike lanes, and sidewalks and improved lighting.

The resulting visions imagined by the student teams reflected many individual perspectives. But regardless of how each student personally dealt with the land use, transportation and economic development choices presented, each of the five teams rose to the task. The end result was visually effective and logically designed plans with enhanced pedestrian amenities, mixed use developments and dynamic centers offering a diverse range of community services.

Over the past 10 years, the City of Dallas Strategic Planning department has been providing workshops for K-12 students; sharing insight about urban planning duties and career opportunities. Multi-media presentations integrate videos, 3D renderings and display maps; immersing students in the diverse and dynamic world of urban planning.

Dallas Academy instructor Caroline Cooper, who initiated the workshop as part of her geography class study of urban sprawl in North America, said the event helped her students visualize the complex issues of urban development and redevelopment.

“They learned a great deal,” she said. “The following day, we spent most of our class period talking about the project and they had lots of ideas of what to do different next time. They even asked if I would design a project for them to do instead of a test, and the students usually hate that! The Dallas planning workshop inspired them, and that’s not easy to do, believe me.”

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