Unalaska Kids Map Out Model Towns

Friday, October 31 2014

Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB

Laying out neighborhoods isn’t the world’s most glamorous job. But every October, urban planners make an extra effort to get people interested in that work for National Community Planning Month.

In Unalaska, that meant helping some of the town’s youngest residents design a world all their own. KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal was invited to take a tour and brought back this report.

The back room of Unalaska’s community center was clearly made for kids: packed with toys, painted in primary colors. Even the tables and chairs sit extra low to the ground.

But no one is using them today.

[sound of children talking]

Instead, 30 elementary school students are on their feet, reviewing a model city they made from scratch:

Erin Reinders: "What’s this area right here?"
Kids: "Hamburger Street!"
Anthony Grande: "What’s on Hamburger Street?"
Kids: "There’s hamburger restaurants and stores!

Welcome to Hamburger Town.

Reinders: "Where even the mountains look like hamburgers!"

Erin Reinders is the lead planner for the city of Unalaska. And for the past month, she and her colleague -- Anthony Grande -- have been leading an after-school program. It's meant to teach kids how to create a community from the ground up.

Hamburger Town and the city of Wild Hills might be made of paper. But Reinders they’ve gone through a pretty realistic planning process.

Reinders: "We broke it up into two towns and they made their natural environment and their built environment and we talked a little bit about zoning."

That’s on Melanie’s mind, as she gets ready to glue down her paper house on a quiet corner in Hamburger Town. The seven-year-old says she’s feeling good about the location:

Melanie: "Because it says it right here, where should houses go. And like, restaurants."

Melanie’s pointing to a crayon-and-marker drawing hanging on the wall. It’s a zoning map. And it wasn’t easy to make.

Melanie says everyone had to sit still for a really long time. The grown-up planners asked questions, and the kids had to agree where everything should go. But they had to get it done, so they could move on to the best part:

Melanie: "When we’re coloring the houses and we’re making them."

Nine-year-old Jonathan was gone for a lot of that process. He joined the project late. And by the time he made it to Wild Hills, the team had already designed a natural environment -- placing four volcanoes around the city.

They’d also applied for building permits and started making houses. But Jonathan doesn’t seem to mind.

Jonthan: "Wild Hills has hills, mountains and safetyness [sic]. One of the volcanoes has lots of room between it and houses. The other one is pretty close to houses. But not too much."

It’s a great community on paper. But what if it were real? Would Jonathan want to live in Wild Hills?

Jonathan: "Yes. But if there were robbers, I would rather have a police station."
LR: "There’s no police station?"
Jonathan: "Nope! None of the two cities have police stations."

It’s not because they’re soft on crime, though. Reinders, the lead planner, says both towns talked about what kind of government they wanted. And they agreed that law enforcement was important enough to get its own building.

Reinders: "I think you’ll see one that says police station and fire station…"

While the kids sit down for a quick meeting with a teacher from the Community Center, Reinders sneaks away and confirms: There’s no sign of the cop shop in the Hamburger Town square.

Then, Reinders spots a plastic bucket full of buildings the team ran out of time for. Buried at the bottom is the police station. It’s a little crumpled, but nothing a glue stick can’t fix.

Reinders: "So I, right now, am repairing our police station and fire station. And I’m making sure that I’m about to put it in an area that it’s zoned for, based on the zoning map that they came up with. I’m going to put it in a blue area…"

As Reinders glues the building down, Jonathan stops by to ask about the last-minute construction.

Jonathan: "What is that? Is that a police station?"
Reinders: "This is the police station."
Jonathan: "Now both towns have a police station!"
Reinders: "So thank you for sharing your concern. Because then we were able to fix that."

Before he leaves to join the other kids, Jonathan gives Hamburger Town one last look.

Jonathan: "With a few changes -- and with magic -- it could turn into a real city."

That, and maybe some planning.

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