English Students Take On
Urban Planning ProjectPosted by Josh Flory on 12/10/2019
For a group of English 3 students at Central High School, a groundbreaking play was the gateway to a real-world project examining issues of community development and urban planning.
The catalyst for the project was “Raisin In The Sun,” which traces the journey of an African-American family in mid-20th-Century Chicago as they seek to move into an all-white neighborhood.
English teacher Andrea Menendez said the play focused on issues including racial segregation and that after reading it, she wanted students to think about how they could improve and support local neighborhoods and places.
With that in mind, students were asked to identify a local site that could be reorganized to improve the environment, promote community or combat segregation. While none of the projects focused specifically on race, Menendez said they did look at how to provide services to residents or attract new residents.
After researching the site, students presented detailed improvement strategies, including master plans, projected budgets and a written rationale.
“I just wanted to get students connected to their own communities,” Menendez said. “So much of the time in the classroom we get stuck with a certain text or with certain skills and objectives required by standardized testing, and this was a chance for them to make something that was relevant to them and that they could share with community members.”
On Friday, groups of students gathered in the library to present their proposals to an audience that included local government officials. The event included initiatives to renovate Fountain City’s Adair Park; redesign a shopping center on Merchant Drive; and revamp World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.
11th-grader Lily Ewers was part of a group that focused on the creation of “Crossroads Park,” an eco-friendly space near the Knoxville Botanical Garden.
The site would include a playground with equipment made from recycled tires; rubber mulch; a new sidewalk and crosswalk; and the addition of plants and foliage.
Ewers said the park would strengthen the community, because “kids could play with each other, meet new friends, and it would connect them to nature and teach them about things they probably don’t know about.”
The group that focused on Adair Park recommended the installation of a vegetation buffer, which would improve water quality; reduce the impact of invasive aquatic plants; and attract bees and other pollinators.
George Sanger, an 11th-grader who was part of that group, said he learned about the workflow involved in such a project, with steps including researching the problem, identifying a solution and crafting a budget.
Sanger said he initially was skeptical about an urban planning project in English class, but that he ended up enjoying the chance to be creative. “I just had a really good time brainstorming and designing something that I think is really good and could do good in our community,” he said.
For her part, Menendez said the projects had a heavy element of research and writing, which made them a good fit for English students.
At the same time, the exposure to urban design may plant seeds for future careers. Dawn Michelle Foster, the City of Knoxville’s Director of Redevelopment, attended the event and came away impressed, saying the students could one day be future leaders in the city.
“They really researched well and they had a lot of ideas of creating sustainability measures and being environmentally sensitive and very eco-friendly for the city,” she said. “We need that to continue, and these are the young people that would do that for us.”