This is the fifth and final post in a series chronicling a set of three design workshops (“Visioning Sessions”) with high schoolers in an unincorporated area outside of Santa Rosa, California. Read the history of this community here. This concluding post is focused on the voices of the students themselves. Eight students volunteered to write reflections to contribute to this blog. I have used excerpts from their reflections below organized around 4 main themes. You can read their full posts here.
Education about planning and design
Planners often make an assumption that everyone knows what urban planning and design is. People experience urban planning issues on a daily basis, but they may not think about it in urban planning terms. My work with the Elsie Allen High School students was an important reminder that planning and design ideas need be broken down into accessible concepts. In educating these young people, I was excited to see how eager they are to share their learning with their neighbors and work towards a broader understanding of community issues.
During the three-day series on urban planning, I learned information that made me look at neighborhoods in new ways. There are many areas in the city that can use improvement, whether to increase safety or pure aesthetics. I hope that with this project I will be able to put my knowledge to use and share it with other people in my community to make a change in the city.
My understanding of urban planning has completely changed me. When I go outside I think about how the plazas and malls are organized and who they benefit. I also realize that it doesn’t take just one person, it takes the involvement of many people, to make change happen. This is often hard, because many people are under informed, unaware, and don’t believe that their opinion can make a difference.
It was so much fun to have my classmates come together to discuss common problems in our communities. I learned a lot about how urban planning can actually help the community in more ways than I ever thought was possible.
One of the main goals of the visioning sessions was to talk with students about the reasons behind the inequities facing their neighborhood. There are institutional and structural reasons for the lack of safety in their neighborhoods, and understanding these is important in order to fight for greater equity. I didn’t anticipate how fired up this knowledge would make the students. A group of them have decided to work on an educational campaign to teach their neighbors about the challenges of being unincorporated and potentially gain community support to petition for annexation.
Growing up in Moorland Avenue, I have become accustomed to constant gang violence and frequent police visits. I have even witnessed a drive-by shooting on my neighbor’s house. The older I become, the more I realize this isn’t normal, and it definitely isn’t good. Having two immigrant parents from India who just barely got their chance at the “American Dream”, and growing up in a world that was new to all of us, it can definitely be said that no one chooses to live in Moorland. There’s no stunning view, no fresh cut grass and white picket fences, no block parties, or neighborhood gatherings. Everyone that lives here does so for the same reason: they have to, it’s their only option. Some people say that if you want to succeed, you have to try your best; but when a child grows up with so many traumatic experiences, they definitely aren’t on any fair or equal standing with others.
The city isn’t in charge of fixing potholes or keeping unincorporated areas clean. I found out that for the past ten years I have live in an incorporated area. This has drastically impacted me because I had thought that all neighborhoods were like the one I lived in. Knowing that they are not, has made me want to help to improve communities with less resources.
Importance of collaboration
Collaboration is obviously a fundamental component of participatory planning and design. Nonetheless, it was meaningful to witness the students’ excitement as they worked through problems together and saw that they are able to come up with successful ideas as a group.
The best thing I learned was the power of collaboration. At first, I saw that everyone wanted different things in our neighborhoods and we couldn’t come to a conclusion on what we wanted. But by collaborating, we gained clarity on our opinions and came to the best conclusions. We were able to plan out an ideal neighborhood and it was lots of fun! I realized that collaboration is the key to making any change happen in my neighborhood.
In the budgeting activity, our group had some disagreements, but in the end we were able to collaborate and come to an agreement on what the money was to be used for.
I loved the model making activity the most. It took collaboration, communication, and teamwork. Everyone’s model was done exceptionally well and was well thought-out, incorporating what was taught through the series of workshops. It amazed even Lilly how well thought-out the ideas were and how hard everyone worked on the construction of the models.
Feeling like they can make a difference
One of the most important goals of the visioning sessions was for the students to see that they have the power to make change in their community. The students’ know their community best, and I hoped the visioning sessions would begin to show them their own ability to work for neighborhood improvements.
These activities made my classmates and I feel empowered to make a difference in our local communities. Even in an unincorporated area, the community can speak up about how they feel their community could benefit from a particular change, especially if it concerns residents’ safety. We learned that even in unincorporated areas, there are resources and people to contact in order to discuss local problems and that change can occur.
We learned a lot about our community and we learned that we have the power to make a change. I want to continue working with Lilly on building the models because I want to improve my community and make a positive change. Lilly came into our class and educated us about this topic and our communities. She sparked an interest in many kids; this can possibly lead to positive change in our communities.
Rethinking city planning when it comes to impoverished neighborhoods is the only way for change to happen. When simply adding a park or an after-school program has the ability to better the lives of a generation of ignored and forgotten children, the time to act is now. There are no families, children, or students more ready for that change than those of Southwest Santa Rosa.
I am excited to continue working with the students over the course of the semester and beyond, and I look forward to seeing the change they make in their neighborhoods, and the leaders they become in their communities.