Youth contemplate Boston’s future at Imagine Boston brainstorm event

  |   Boston Redevelopment Authority, Boston Society of Architects/AIA, Imagine Boston Youth Brainstorm

by Tamara Roy AIA

imagine-youth-brainstorm-7Class bells had yet to ring, but for a group of Boston high school students, the exchange of knowledge began a little early this year. Two weeks ago the Mayor’s office and the Boston Redevelopment Authority kicked off a citywide comprehensive planning effort with the Imagine Boston 2030 Youth Brainstorm. Hosted by Berklee College of Music in the school’s stunning new cafeteria and performance space on Mass Ave, the event brought together design professionals, city leaders, and over 100 high school students in a workshop atmosphere where students tackled issues of mobility, housing, recreation, and culture, and built models of their ideas.

Starting with an upbeat 3-minute video in which Boston citizens are asked, ‘‘How old will you be in 2030, and what do you wish for the future?” it quickly became obvious why today’s teens need to be engaged. They will be 30 years old in 2030—it happens to be their future.

imagine-youth-brainstorm-5Devouring slices of pizza, the kids sat in small groups and thought about The Future. But how does anyone contemplate the future without reflecting on the present? My group—all girls—started with mobility: “Why is the T so expensive? Why are the buses always full? Why can’t teens have free T passes in the summer so we can get out of our neighborhoods?” (A good idea.) I was curious why they wanted to escape. They told me—in the tone teenagers reserve for out of touch grownups—it’s hot, it’s dull, and worst of all, it’s dangerous.

imagine-youth-brainstorm-3Girls: “We don’t want to live in a violent city where kids say, ‘Stay Safe’, to ward off being killed. There are gangs and nowhere for teens to hang out.”

Me: “Don’t you have a Community Center to go to?”

Girls: “The Centers don’t have stuff that teens want. They’re for old people.”

Me: “How about designing a community center that you’d want to go to?”

And just like that, they fashioned a three-story building out of paper plates and plastic cups, chatting excitedly about what could happen there. A stage on the ground floor for open word, music, and kids “expressing themselves.” A flower garden. A gym that could double as a dance floor. A sunny lounge for hanging out, reading, and studying. Four doorways, complete with inspirational rap quotes above each, so that gangs on one street couldn’t keep kids from getting in on the other side. Then they wrote in big letters on the roof, “LOVE IS PEACE Community Center.”

imagine-youth-brainstorm-6When the presentations started, many groups introduced ideas that should find a place in Boston’s plan: Housing for homeless families with vegetable gardens and solar panels. High quality public schools with marker boards and study lounges that rival private schools. Bike lanes completely separated from cars (and wide enough to do wheelies, please, Mr. Mayor). But it was my group, reading a rap quote by Tupac Shakur, that got one of the most positive responses from their peers: “Before we find world peace, we gotta find peace in the war on the streets.”

Let’s keep creating opportunities to give teens a voice in the citywide plan. Their design ideas can offer creative solutions to the present and powerful visions for the future. Then it’s our responsibility to make sure that 2030 lives up to their hopes.

Tamara Roy AIA is 2015 Vice President/President Elect at the Boston Society of Architects/AIA and is a Principal at ADD Inc./ Stantec

All photos courtesy of Christian Borger, a student and photographer at Boston Architectural College

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