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Fresh Eyes

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"No city is governable if it does not grow citizens who feel it to be theirs."

This statement made by social theorist Paul Goodman 45 years ago is still startling today. The urban development process rarely seeks the opinion of children, yet children have a vital interest in the planning of the future.

Their concern first registered with me through my son and his friends who complained, in tears of distress and fury, that a bulldozer was wrecking their fort. Built in a vacant lot in territory they regarded as their own, they angrily demanded to know the rules.

As a result of this experience, I set about to find ways to bring children into the planning dialogue. Over many years I have developed a children's workshop process. Its basic outline is this:

As an introduction I ask the children to create a city on a large sheet of paper on the wall. I relate and draw a story, beginning with a bare headland, showing children arriving by canoe and building a cabin. Another cabin is added for friends, then a store and the children start to draw in their own ideas. Very soon a crowded city materializes.

Viewing the mess, the children are asked if they would like to live there. They usually all chorus "No!" This sets the stage for them to draw what they would like to live in. The exercise demonstrates change, our responsibility for it, and our need for planning. ...

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