On October 11, 2015, I had the pleasure of participating in Pinellas Park’s Better Block event as an American Planning Association (APA) Ambassador.

I am one of over 100 Ambassadors across the United States participating in APA’s pilot program intended to advance the public understanding of planning and promote the profession to inspire the next generation of planners. The duties of Ambassadors include providing at least two community outreach events over the course of a year. These events can be held in schools, community festivals, or neighborhood organizations.

Since the Pinellas Park Better Block event was focused on celebrating their emerging creative district, I thought it would be fun to have an interactive and art-oriented learning session about planning. The inspiration for my activity came from James Rojas’ Place It! design and participation-based planning activity. I asked activity participants, mostly elementary school-aged children, “What does a GREAT PLACE in Pinellas Park look like to you?” The intent was to play off of APA’s Great Places and highlight favorite places within the city. I provided the children with a variety of materials to build, not draw, their Great Places such as construction paper, straws, string, glue, tape, Legos, and other everyday household objects. As the children worked on their projects we talked about planning and why these places were their favorite.

While all of the children worked on their projects independently, a common theme seemed to be emerging: recreation. The children built parks, their neighborhoods, the local skating rink, the local racing strip, and horse facilities (Pinellas Park has an active horse community). The children’s projects solidified the importance of youth activities within a community to ensure children have places to be active and socialize, especially in a time where recess time has become limited in schools.

As a professional planner, this is the type of activity that makes my career so rewarding. I didn’t learn about planning until college so I think this is a wonderful way to expose the profession to younger minds.

Be on the look-out for my next APA Ambassador event, coming to a community near you!