Arcade vs. green space? Morrisville students plan their own town

aramos@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2013 

— Every town should have candy shops, malls and fast-food restaurants, according to Cedar Fork Elementary School fifth-graders.

But more importantly, they said, towns should have trees, farmers markets and plazas.

Students got a chance to design their own towns as part of Morrisville’s Planning in the Classrooms program. Over two days last month, Morrisville Planning Department officials visited all the fifth-grade classrooms at Cedar Fork Elementary, teaching students about zoning, land use and the effects of development. Students also visited Town Hall.

The program began in 2006 as part of the American National Planning Association’s National Community Planning Month.

“Kids are an important part of our community,” said Ben Hitchings, planning director for Morrisville. “We want to introduce them to these concepts so as they get older they can participate in the planning process.

“Who knows? Maybe one of them will serve on the Planning Board.”

The program also is about empowering kids. “They love it,” Hitchings said. “A lot of times kids aren’t asked what they want to see in their community.”

It’s great for students to see how things like McDonald’s arrive in their neighborhood, said teacher Courtney Beickert.

“They get a better understanding and appreciation for where they live,” she said. “As they work in groups, it gives them a chance to practice collaboration.”

They also practice the art of compromise. In one session, 10-year-old Sherjeel Rashid erased his drawings of trees to make room for more sports fields. His group-mate Ashutosh Dhital, 10, came up with a win-win scenario.

“Add the trees around it,” Ashutosh said.

Matthew Blanchette, 10, added his own suggestions to the drawing.

“You can’t put all the fun stuff on one side, it has to be mixed up,” Matthew said. “If it’s all in one place, then the other places might go out of business.”

Matthew gushed over the chance to share his ideas.

“Since I moved here, I’ve thought so many times about what I would change,” Matthew said. He would like to see more plazas because they give people a chance to walk around, instead of all the parking lots he sees around town.

Each of the groups was a hum of activity as students tried to navigate the tricky art of balancing needs and wants.

“It was fun,” said Maria Louis, 10. “The best part of our town was the candy shop – ’cause I love candy.”

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