Land Use Decisions and Youth -- Reflections from Ag Progress Days 2012
Posted: August 22, 2012
Last month in this space, I talked with you about the definitions and bounds of, and other terms related to, “community development.” Since then, I have spent a few days working the Penn State Extension My Community: What’s the Plan? educational youth activity (affectionately, informally called our “wooden village” program) at the 4H Youth building at Ag Progress Days.
One of my primary takeaways from this work was that at any age, people seem to have certain preferences for where they live, work, and play.
Another revelation was that some folks really like to control their surroundings and, if given the chance, the surroundings of others. In fact, some industrious young community planner participants and would-be real estate developers stopped by the My Community: What’s the Plan? booth repeatedly, and for long periods of time, during the two days that I worked it. When they found that someone had changed their previous community creation, they would work to put it back “right” again.
We the educators had originally not been using the “roads” and “streams” simulation material (colored felt strips) when we set up the activity; we didn’t want to stifle creativity. But many of the older youth participants wanted the extra level of detail that the grey and blue felts (roads and streams) provide. Many also asked for narrower strips of brown felt to simulate dirt roads, or narrower strips of grey felt for alleys and city streets.
One young man in particular dug into the supply boxes beneath the display table, and started to add roads and re-orient the streams on his own, after many other, younger kids discovered the supply boxes and started building willy-nilly. He wanted a pair of scissors to make different sized transportation corridors on his own.
I actually appreciated this older, wiser developer being there, as he started to bring order back to the sprawling chaos and anarchy that was ensuing from haphazard infrastructure placement by the more inexperienced wooden village real estate developers! At one point, from the otherwise pre-determined/designated wooden village pieces, he created a well-thought-out, Towering City that re-opened much of the rest of the green felt “landscape” to agriculture and forestry use again. Smart Growth proponents would have been proud of him! A real life adult professional planner once told me that if the populations of New York City and other urban centers spread out on one-or-two-acre lot households, there would not be any state forests or wilderness left in the world!
Also throughout the days, I witnessed strip lot development, McMansions, Cul-de-sac streets, mixed-use downtowns, small rural village-retail centers, “conservation by design” subdivisions, and value-added agricultural enterprises (farms with a retail outlet included) come and go in our make-believe community.
Many of the builders seemed to be drawn to, and preferred, “pad ready” development sites – aka the wooden gas well pads and the ball fields. Many took a “redevelopment” step by turning these pieces upside down to create an even more buildable terrain! Often, these were then clustered with lots of houses and other buildings jammed together by the builders to resemble townhouses, condominiums, or compact villages. Again, Smart Growth Planners would be proud, as “Compact Building Design” is one of the main tenets of Smart Growth.
As one of my colleagues observed, the building of roads with the felt can be constricting to our My Community: What’s the Plan? educational program, but many of the kids I saw go through the activity had no problem moving them around and reconfiguring them. If only it were that easy and cost-free in real life!
I did find that the gray and blue felt roads and streams (and when wrinkled the green felt base) helped to illustrate Pennsylvania’s often restricting and challenging natural conditions. They also demonstrated other restricting development conditions, such as previously existing -- but perhaps obsolete -- development patterns, buildings, and infrastructure.
Going back to my initial statement in this narrative, I was particularly impressed by the large quantity of home builders of both genders that preferred lake, stream, other waterfront, and other amenity(like ball field)-abutting property. It seems these attributes are attractive to all age groups. These young builders want their carefully chosen big houses right beside them! Some of the kids started to question their choices, however, once I quizzed them about how they (or who) would maintain their long driveways and/or large lawns, and when I asked how long it would take for them to get to work, shopping, or other people and culture-focused activity. They also started to think about the fuel and other energy costs to get to these and other needs, if they lived too far from them. Some adults that looked on wanted us to discuss riparian buffers in our presentation.
Moreover, it seemed to me that a significant number of the young women of the participants preferred building their homes in the more densely settled towns, villages, and city. Are their gender differences in development pattern preferences? What role does age play? Perhaps you as the reader of this blog can help me answer these questions, and any other questions you can offer. As always, I welcome your feedback on my wandering thoughts.
Perhaps you can help to bring focus.
But, to summarize, and probably needless to say, I have a lot of fun manning the My Community: What’s the Plan? display for Penn State Extension! If you would like to join me in the activity, we will be set up at the 150th Annual Indiana County Fair from August 26th to September 1st, 2012. We welcome volunteers and others who might also want to use the activity in their own community to join us in learning by doing.
Please stop to say hello, and let me know that you heard about the wooden village from this blog. I am wondering who reads these words!