Students take on urban planning in Toronto
Students present street design suggestions to municipal staff

The pandemic has forced many processes to be altered to allow for timely completion of projects. Sometimes, you find that such limitations are actually blessings in disguise. GCC’s School Travel Planning (STP) team in Toronto made use of the challenges posed by the lockdown to involve students in suggesting changes to the urban infrastructure around a school! 

Walkabouts, a standard practice in the STP process where stakeholders try to understand what the current routes to school are like from the vantage point of someone walking, were put on hold because of restrictions on gatherings. “Our work with an Equity Working Group pointed at the fact that more student engagement is necessary in STP. Since local councillors were unable to gather due to lockdown restrictions, we discussed the idea with Malvern Junior Public School to involve students in the walk since they are already in a social bubble,” says Laura Zeglen, GCC’s former School Travel Planner in Toronto who now works as an Active Transportation Coordinator for the City of Mississauga.  

As usual, routes were planned and the students were divided into two teams with the help of teachers from the school. They took to the streets in March this year with cameras and notebooks to identify what’s good and not good about the built environment. Going further, they also put together a presentation in April including details of the walk that was showcased in front of municipal staff, local trustees and the principal. The slides identify gaps in signage, obstacles on and around footpaths, and lack of crossings at certain locations on the route to school. 

“There was quite some interest from the city officials which is a great sign,” says Laura, expressing hope that the voice of children will be heard more in street design. 

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