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Work session with county kids inspires staff, proves the next generation Is a key planning resource

By Kendra Hyson and Jessica McVary

Wouldn’t it be great if our plan for the future was created with input from all the generations of people who will live in our county in the next 30 years? We are driving change for the next generation, but are we including today’s kids in conversations about the future and implementing their ideas in a meaningful way? The youth are our future.  Their voices should be heard.

With the progression of social media and other online platforms, today’s kids have strong technical skills and increased awareness of technology and other issues important to our future. Their insight matters deeply and we need to take more opportunities to view the world through their eyes. Our broad knowledge of the history and current context in Montgomery County needs to be combined with the innovation and optimism of our youth to bring about a future that is holistic, inclusive and resilient.

As we develop a plan for the future, planning staff are prioritizing the insight youth provide. Engaging with groups such as the Gandhi Brigade, Maryland Multicultural Youth Center, Street Outreach Network, and most recently several teams of the FIRST LEGO League is just the beginning.

FIRST LEGO League teams face the City Shaper Challenge with Montgomery Planning Staff.

FIRST LEGO League teams face the City Shaper Challenge with Montgomery Planning Staff.

Montgomery Planning recently hosted a small visioning session with several local FIRST LEGO League teams. Tasked with creating a better future through the City Shaper Challenge, which asks kids, “What if you could build a better world? Where would you begin?,” this group of kids worked with planners to talk through the potential challenges and opportunities of building a better world. The students, who ranged from 8 to 12 years old and represented schools across the county,  worked in teams and used old magazines, construction paper, and markers to create collages that illustrated their visions for the future of Montgomery County.

Students from across the county created vision collages illustrating their ideas for the future of Montgomery County

Students from across the county created vision collages illustrating their ideas for the future of Montgomery County

Each team focused on a different challenge faced in today’s communities. From food deserts, to urban heat island (which occurs when developed areas become warmer than their surrounding environment due to human activities), and historic community preservation, the students covered many of the issues and topics under consideration by planning staff. The kids developed solutions to challenges facing our public spaces, connectivity, and accessibility for residents, such as stackable parking structures to reduce the footprint of parking, unlimited Wi-Fi access everywhere, and exploration of autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, and innovative net-zero architecture, which refers to buildings designed to minimize environmental impact. The teams also considered the cost of innovation, balancing technological advances with the things that make Montgomery County a great place to live.

Since the visioning session, one of the FIRST LEGO League teams, the Helix Hackers, developed a survey to solicit feedback on their proposed solution to create a better future: an on-demand, flexible-route bus service that solves the first-mile-last-mile problem, when people live slightly beyond the comfortable distance for walking to transit. If you are interested in learning more about the solution proposed by this group of students, please view their survey.

Planning staff was truly floored by the capacity, ingenuity, and imagination of all the kids who participated in the session. “Inspired” is an understatement. Working with groups such as the FIRST LEGO League makes staff hopeful that our future is in outstanding hands.

This process reaffirmed that the county’s youth are an amazing resource that should be engaged as we plan for the future. As we refine a plan for the next 30 years, we want to be bold and innovative. Thanks to these little geniuses – we might get somewhere!

Students present their ideas for the future through their collages.

Students present their ideas for the future through their collages.

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