About fifteen years ago, I remember hearing a story in California about a truck that had gotten stuck in a low clearance underpass. The police and fire departments came to the rescue, in hopes of providing remedy. A tow truck was even called to exert brute force. But all to no avail.
As you can expect, quite a crowd amassed – mainly because traffic couldn’t move. In the gallery was an eight year old girl and her father. Then, from the mouth of the third grader came the obvious – but apparently not so obvious to the experts.
“Let the air out of the truck tires.” They did, and the problem was solved.
This story came back to me after reading about Public Space Trading Cards developed in Barcelona, Spain. These cards looked pretty much like any other. But instead of Renaldo or David Beckham, they were of local parks, playgrounds and libraries. Some of these places were well-known to the community … some not so. On each card there was room to write input. “What was the state of the “space” and what could be done to make to it more usable?” This articulation of the existing condition by the community users, mainly children, added invaluable input to whatever new projects are created and what upkeep was needed for the existing ones. Sometimes the smallest improvement could make the biggest difference.
My daughter played basketball in grade school. At the time we lived in Southern California. Because of the weather, there was no need to play inside … ever. But the kids always wanted to play on the courts in the school gym, and most often the gym was closed. Why you ask. Nets – or should I say, lack of them, that’s why! Who wants to play hoops when you can’t tell if you made the shot or not? Well the kids didn’t … and they told me!
So I went to Sports Chalet and bought nets. Not only for the playground where my daughter played … for courts all over town. I fixed the ones that needed fixing. And when they ripped again, I fixed them again. Then a funny thing happened. Playgrounds that used to be empty, weren’t anymore. Not only were kids playing basketball, their moms (or dads) and their younger siblings were there too – on the merry-go-rounds and in the sandboxes.
All it took was listening to the kids tell me they needed nets. The “powers-that-be” in Newport Beach apparently couldn’t figure this out. And believe me – there’s no shortage of money in Newport Beach, so that wasn’t the problem.
There’s an interesting article that came out in Good Magazine about a grassroots initiative started by a group of University of Michigan undergraduates.
Although teachers, education reformers, and policymakers have spent plenty of time debating the best way to improve schools, students have rarely been involved in the discussions. Libby Ashton, founder and president of rEDesign, says college students bring a valuable perspective to the push to improve public schools because they’re fresh out of high school and “still identify with our roles as students.” They know what it takes to get into college and succeed, but they also have fresh memories of what it’s like to “feel completely uninspired and isolated in school.”
The rest of the article can found here: “College Students May Hold the Key to Re-designing Education.”
What a concept, involve those that actually have a stake.
But most public policy wonks must think there’s a demarkation age on knowledge and ideas. Is it eighteen, or is it even older? For some it might as well be “one foot in the grave.” Never matter that the interests of those who have no representation (the under eighteen crowd) are often in direct conflict with those that are making decisions for them. Aside from that systematic injustice, what if these “insignificants” have insight that can better society for everyone.
Personally, I’d rather listen to a seven-year old, rather than a lot of adults I know.
I can be reached on Twitter at @clayforsberg