Parks, fair wages, child care, healthy food, and clean streets — these are a few of the assets a group of Mount Hope residents hope to find in their town in 20 years. By then, they will be 30 years old.
At a recent meeting of the Mount Hope Planning Commission aimed at crafting a comprehensive plan, a group of 10- to 16-year-olds had a meeting of their own to discuss their future vision for the town. They produced a thoughtful and surprisingly adult list of goals for their community — who knew, for example, that a 10-year-old would be concerned with tidy lawn care?
“One of the standard rules in planning is if you really want to understand a place, go ask the fourth graders,” says Meghan Dorsett of Anderson & Associates, the firm facilitating the town’s comprehensive planning process.
“They are not so jaded that they say, ‘Whatever,’ like teenagers. And they are old enough to listen to everything their parents say at the dinner table and then repeat it.”
Leah Squires, Mount Hope’s planning coordinator, says community leaders wanted to get more youth involved in the planning process, so they put the word out through Anita Grant at the town’s community center. They expected to see people in the 18- to 25-year-old range, but instead, a younger crew showed up.
When they did, Squires looked at the meeting agenda and immediately realized that the kids would need to tackle the task with an activity geared specially toward them. So they all headed outside with markers and large sheets of paper in hand.
What she found out was that when it comes to the future of their town, Mount Hope kids have a lot to say.
“Most of what the kids said, the adults hadn’t even picked up on,” says Squires.
They suggested, for instance, building parks throughout town on lots where dilapidated buildings are currently being torn down.
Squires says their ideas will be incorporated into the overall planning document right alongside the adults.
“I don’t think the kids expected that what they said would be important, but I think it will be invaluable,” says Squires.
For one thing, she heard how much the kids valued the YMCA in their town, where Grant oversees their playtime. Squires says its importance in the kids’ world-views is a good reason to try and fix up the aging building.
She also heard that the kids want to have good quality child care and jobs close to home. They want neighbors close by and plenty of places to shop, including a grocery store. One child wrote that when she has kids of her own, she wants to “talk to them every day.”
“Some of what they said was heartbreaking,” says Squires. “They are more honest than adults.”
“I would use the football field to make a carnival and let people go for free,” wrote Nana, 10.
“And I think every neighborhood should have a park ... Keep the library, make my own schools. Make jewelry stores. Fix up the community center and have closer hospitals and a Red Cross nearby. Have a shelter. A place like a tutoring center. Have a place where you can take care of kids,” she added.
She also wants a community garden, homeless shelter, a market, a museum, and an office that’s only an escalator ride away from her home.
“It gives us a different view,” says Dorsett. “These people are invested in their community, but not in parcels of properties, so they have a different take on the community.”
Photographs of the kids’ contributions to the planning process are available for view on the Mount Hope Planning Commission’s Facebook page. The commission also has a new website up with additional information about the planning process: www.mounthopewvplan.com.
Mount Hope’s next planning meeting is July 30 at 6 p.m. at the community center. All are welcome.
The town is in the midst of drafting a comprehensive plan to guide future land use and development.
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