Lacey Rains Lowe from the Planning and Development Department participated in Forum Week at Campus Middle School for Girls. Each semester, one week is devoted to special programming, guest speakers and lessons on a topic selected by the students. This semester, urban planning was the selected topic for Forum Week.
Students participated in a hands-on activity called a ‘charrette’ to reimagine the parking lot at Neil and Washington Streets. A charrette is an interactive planning activity that involves discussion, brainstorming and sketching to create ideas for the future of a site, neighborhood or community. The location was selected because the students were familiar with it and the City is currently seeking a consultant to facilitate a visioning process for the site this summer.
First, the students shared what they like and dislike about visiting downtown Champaign. Students noted that they enjoy special events like the Parade of Lights and there are many restaurants downtown. Unfortunately, the class unanimously agreed that downtown does not offer much beyond those activities for people their age. The class then formed five teams who each created a vision for a new central gathering space. Each team was asked to describe ten activities that could take place in the space when it is finished and key facilities needed for those activities. Using large maps, trace paper and colored pencils, they created conceptual site plans to illustrate their ideas.
The students were very enthusiastic to become involved in a real world planning activity. While the students gained knowledge about urban planning, staff received important insight into the features young people want in a downtown environment. Many thanks go out to Campus Middle School for Girls for inviting the City of Champaign to be involved in Forum Week.