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St. Louis KidsPlace: young people learn first hand about urban design.

ST. LOUIS, MO.--Question: How do you ensure the future vitality of the city of St. Louis as the metropolitan region's hub for business and commerce, transportation, arts and culture, recreation, and tourism?

Answer: Involve young people in planning the direction of major city projects.

In St. Louis, we did this recently by bringing youth, high-level public and private sector officials and planners together for a forum on urban planning and design.

This five-hour exchange of ideas on Nov. 15, 1991 involved 66 high school juniors and seniors from 32 schools and 20 planning professionals who discussed five major development projects in the city.

The forum, called the "KidsPlace Youth Forum on Urban Planning and Design," was sponsored by the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council's "Friends of KidsPlace" board in cooperation with officials from the city, the Bi-State Development Agency--which manages public transportation in the area--and the American Institute of Architects.

The Council is the St. Louis metropolitan area's regional council of governments that includes the city and four adjacent Missouri and three Illinois counties. The board is a group of private citizens involved in youth projects in the area.

Planners and officials involved in these projects presided over workshops designed to inform young people and engage them in discussion about the projects. These professionals included architects, college professors, transportation planners and neighborhood specialists.

These projects ranged from developing a master plan for the downtown area to building a new football stadium. The discussions centered on safety aspects, accessibility, design, and economic impact of the projects.

The forum increased the professionals' understanding of the perspective of the region's future leaders on each project. That perspective will be a continuing element in these projects as some of the young people continue to meet with project planners.

Allowing young people to have face-to-face meetings with decision-makers is more of a hands-on educational experience than simply having them read a textbook.

Bringing young people into the planning process is an investment. When youth are ignored they become disenfranchised, which later in their lives can translate into little interest or involvement in civic affairs. Activities like the forum that get young people excited and involved pay dividends now and later for them and the community.

As mayor of St. Louis, the largest city in this bi-state metropolitan region of 2.4 million people, I want young people to be excited, involved and providing new ideas. The forum offered that along with the opportunity to begin to restore some of the connections lost among the region's residents as suburbs have grown up around the city.

We wanted to show young people that a thriving central city and downtown is vital to the overall health of a region that includes the neighboring suburban areas where many of them are growing up. The central city core provides the focus of investment and jobs in a region.

Although a person may live in, say, Franklin County, a largely rural county about 40 miles outside of St. Louis and on the fringes of the Ozarks, their economic health is affected by the downtown area.

The five key development projects discussed were:

[section] A master plan for developing the St. Louis downtown area.

[section] The proposed expansions to Cervantes Convention Center, Kiel Auditorium, and the construction of a new football stadium.

[section] The Metro Link light rail transit line now under construction and the Multi-Modal Transportation Center that will house bus and train stations and a heliport.

[section] The redevelopment of the Grand Center Arts and entertainment center along the old Grand Avenue theater district.

[section] The revitalization and development of city neighborhoods.

The young people participating brought a variety of perceptions to the discussions.

Christopher Nicolaus, a senior at Webster Groves High School in Missouri, said he agreed with plans for a $250 million expansion of the Cervantes Convention Center in downtown.

"This is spending that will help bring St. Louis out of the recession and that means more businesses, more jobs and greater financial security throughout the area," Nicolaus said.

Paula Cradic, a junior at Cahokia High School in Illinois, said she didn't agree with some aspects of a master plan for downtown that calls for expanding the city's convention center, the new stadium and a light rail line link.

"My main argument is that a portion of the revenue produced by expansion projects should be used for skill development programs for the homeless," Cradic said.

Cradic and other members of her group will be allowed to make more suggestions about the master plan. The city's Community Development Agency wants to convene the young people again in 1992 to continue their input.

Vincent C. Schoemehl, Jr., is the Mayor of the City of St. Louis, Missouri.
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Author:Schoemehl, Vincent C., Jr.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 27, 1992
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