Kids are often left out of the conversation about the built environment that surrounds them. They find themselves living in neighborhoods controlled and designed by adults. Some kids can’t play outside because of crime, some can’t walk to a friend’s house because there aren’t sidewalks, and some can’t ride their bikes because there is too much traffic. Many kids find themselves limited by the world around them.
Through the Box City project at Dobbs Elementary, students were able to design a city where these issues didn’t exist. The program was organized by Active Living KC, an initiative of the City of Kansas City, Mo., and Dobbs Elementary of the Hickman Mills School District. Active Living KC has been working with the Hickman Mills School District to improve conditions for walking and biking to school. The overall goal of this project was to get students thinking about how the world around them affects their ability to be active and how they can increase opportunities through design. Funding for Active Living KC has been provided by the Health Forward Foundation.
Active Living KC worked with 17 fourth graders to design a city of their own. The initial design process included students learning about different city design elements such as edges, landmarks and districts. As a group, students chose the different elements their city needed. Students chose three districts: a residential neighborhood, a shopping and entertainment district, and a beach. From there they voted on what needed to be in each district. Two things became apparent through this process: First, the students were very successfully marketed to as they decided they needed a McDonald’s, Sam’s Club, Denny’s and a handful of chain clothing stores.
We encouraged the students to create their own businesses. Rather than adding someone else’s store, the students began to claim their businesses. Sam’s Club became Bryce’s Club, the apartment building and school were named after their teacher, Mrs. Miller, and Nequan’s Best Candy Shop snuck its way into the healthy town. Second, the kids wanted to add jails and police stations to their city – their city had to have one. After some discussion we decided it was a safe place that didn’t need a jail.
Transportation was another obstacle for the kids. When asked how they’d get around, they said “Our parents will drive us there.” But then the kids remembered – this was their city, there were no parents, and they are all too young to drive. They had to arrange their city in a way that made it easy to get around.
They decided to put the houses near Bryce’s Club, the grocery store. They put the school and library close to each other. The school was put on the beach so they could play in the ocean during recess. Without prompting, the students created several opportunities for playing and active transportation. In the end, the students learned about geography, healthy places, entrepreneurship and consensus building.
The Box City, which the students named Kid City, is on display for the month of July at the Blue Ridge branch of Mid-Continent Public Library (9253 Blue Ridge Blvd.).