Without it there’s dust and decay.
But with water, there’s life…

Clean Water in Muskoka

This clip from the animated feature Rango kicked off this May’s * celebration of World Town Planning Day at Monsignor Lee Catholic School in Orillia.  The 2013 theme of water was used, with some of the many floods and droughts from last year being noted.  Colette Isaac, a geographer with Incite Planning engaged the students by asking them to identify the location of these events on a map of the world.  We then explored the link between extreme weather and suburban sprawl, along with the design principles that would help counter this trend.  The on-line tool Walkscore was used to illustrate the primary principle of walkability.

Ironically, it rained that day; but it eased up enough for a walkabout in the neighbourhood to search for the presence or absence of these principles.  To maintain order, teachers Barb Crowther and Dave Marwick divided the 40 students from the grade seven and eight history/geography class into 5 teams.  Kristin Dibble Pechkovsky, a planner with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, and Holly Spacek, a planner with the Simcoe County District School Board, helped guide the tour.  Jeff Duggan, a planner from the City of Orillia, also assisted, as well as discussed the City’s active transportation plan.  The relevance of the topic was highlighted by a student who reported that her mother drove 50 km from the cottage that morning to spare her a less than 500 m walk in the rain.

The final part of the day was a design exercise; with the City of Orillia graciously providing maps of the neighbourhood.  We started with a clip from the documentary Chasing Ice; the largest ice-calving event ever recorded, with a map of Manhattan superimposed on the crumbling Greenland glacier for scale.  This was followed by a video from the Planning 101 series on the design basics of active transportation.  The 5 teams were then asked to design their ideal neighbourhood, which they did with gusto.  One group of girls proved to be budding planners.  They meticulously outlined the task, their design concepts, along with a colour-coded map legend.  Another group of boys built, rebuilt, and built again their town with blocks.  Others studiously drew, coloured, mapped, and constructed the shops, recreation, homes, they wanted to see.  One lad was overheard saying “… we need a Starbucks, girls like Starbucks, maybe an Ughs and leggings store too…” 

The volunteers were very gratified when three teams skipped recess to finish their designs!  The day ended with all members of each team presenting their concepts to the rest of the class.  Hopefully, the exuberance of this experience will inspire further student charettes in the Lakeland District.  The author would like to extend a thank-you to everyone who participated including education assistant Rhonda Lauer, teacher Sandra Stevens, and student teacher Rachel Carrier.

*Discussions with the school regarding WTPD started last fall, but curriculum scheduling indicated that the end of the school year worked better for students.

Author: David J. Stinson

David J. Stinson, MCIP, RPP, is part of the Programme Committee for Lakeland District and is a partner in Incite Planning. 


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