2nd-graders create their ideal of well-planned, equipped city Yearlong project set up by Baltimore officials


Jessie James, 7, made the cardboard church. Kristin Bakkegard, 8, made the post office for "letters to send to someone far away." Chantel McDowell, 7, made the house with a purple roof.

Other second-graders at North Baltimore's Mount Washington Elementary School made a hospital, school, toy store, ice cream parlor and homeless shelter.

"Just in case people didn't have homes and food," said 7-year-old Janiqua Wilson, "the shelter will take care of them."

Also, sometimes people do bad things or don't agree on something, so every city should have a courthouse, observed 8-year-old Christopher Durenberger.

Then came the hard part: deciding what to put where on the

map of an ideal city.

Two classes, taught by Lynn Rubin and Dawn England, reached consensus on most matters. But if disagreements arose, the democratic process kicked in: "We voted," explained 7-year-old Ronald Clark.

As the school year closed, students finished their portion of a yearlong comprehensive planning process, which city officials set up to give students on all levels municipal planning experience. Their fresh-eyed designs of an ideal city might prove a well of inspiration, said planning officials.

The surprisingly relevant results show the Mount Washington students had their thinking caps on.

"The kids really talked a lot about the relationships of the buildings," said city planner Laurie Feinberg, who led a group discussion last month to kick off the school project. "I was incredibly impressed."

Feinberg estimates that about 1,000 elementary school children in the city have completed a planning project. She also conducted 10 high school workshops.

At Mount Washington, second-graders made a list of all the necessary elements of a city, created buildings out of cardboard and drew streets, trees and parks on a long sheet of paper.

The blueprint looks a lot like Baltimore, with a harbor, stadium and a light rail shown by blue dots. But there was more: a Sea World and a "Noise Corner," where people could be as loud as they pleased.

Some things made sense to everybody. "We put the university right near the bookstore, so the students can buy books," said Lily Jacobs, 8.

Another issue required thoughtful discussion: whether to put fire and police stations near each other to share resources and respond jointly to emergencies -- a point residents and officials have wrestled with in monthly forums.

Along the same lines, the classes decided to place other public facilities -- schools, libraries, recreation and day care centers -- close to one another.

One concept that Rubin said her students learned: "It's better to have children's things together, centrally located around a school."

Rubin said the exercise helped them understand an abstract notion like community. "To see it mapped out and placed was very valuable," she said.

One second-grader involved in the Mount Washington project was Charles Graves IV, 8 -- not to be confused with the city's planning director, Charles Graves III.

L Does his dad talk about city planning over the dinner table?

"All the time," he deadpanned.

"We're really planning the city for them, the next generation," said his father. "So we wanted them to start thinking about these things."

Pub Date: 6/10/98

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