Along for the Ride #121
Dedicated to my friend and teammate Juan Angel Estrada and his family.
My name is Anthony Rosado Jr., but my friends call me AJ. Shoutout to Sarah for giving me the mic to curate this week’s newsletter!
Since graduating from Syracuse University in 2015 I, like many Community Managers before me, stumbled into community management and organizing by accident. Since then, whether it was acting as a college access counselor, bikeshare advocate, or community manager, I always found myself engaging youth and centering them around programs and learning to ask them, “What do you need?” and “How can I get you there?”
Background: I played little league baseball right in Prospect Park and on Dewey Field with Juan Angel Estrada. He was the second baseman and shortstop. One night in 2004, while walking home from school he and his friend were hit by a truck that turned too close to the sidewalk on ninth street and third avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. To this day, ninth street in Park Slope still is one of the most dangerous crosswalks in Brooklyn. I thank Sarah Barnes for allowing me to honor his memory in this small way.
Today, I’m here to talk to you about our responsibility in paving the road (pun intended) for the next wave of transportation planners, advocates, and leaders. Gen Z is commonly pointed to as the “Transportation Generation,” with their increasingly eco-friendly mindset and their lack of desire for car ownership. This evolving mindset didn’t happen overnight and is a debatable claim at best, depending on who and where you ask. However, I’m concerned the generation after, coined Generation Alpha, will share the same ideals and desire for spaces where people, not cars, are prioritized. Well, that entirely depends on us. If we want to guide Gen Alpha in being the urban planners to change the future, we need to do two crucial tasks.
First off, we need to include children in the planning conversation. I’ll say it again for the folks in the back. Ask kids, yes children, what they want to see in the spaces we’re creating for them. I’ve been in too many meetings where planners, transit employees, and even parents say they have the best interest of their kids at heart; however, there is rarely any real initiatives geared toward valuing the input of the kids who, for all intents and purposes, will be the ones utilizing the space the most. Even one of the biggest child-centered programs in the nation, Safe Routes to School, is guilty of shunning the very students they aim to protect in building and ideating the spaces that they will walk, bike, and play on every single day.
If you ask me, adults are too bogged down in the “song and dance” it frequently takes to get truly impactful planning projects off the ground, let alone sustain. Have you, as an urban planner or manager, been in a room with an idea that you did not vocalize because you thought the idea was silly, childish, or you were immediately discouraged because you were fully aware of the political or socio-economic hurdles you’d have to face? Kids, on the other hand, are not inhibited by policy nor procedures. They are creative souls that have ideas to put an ice cream stand on a greenway or to put a Pokémon Go “Pokéstop” by a historical landmark. As planners, we need to stop thinking we know what’s best for children just because we’re “wiser” or “more experienced” and just straight up ask them. Also, do not talk down to them, as kids pick up and are more perspective than we think. Lead a workshop that is playful, interactive, and has kids show their ideas through drawing and crafts, not just by talking. Even have them be the ones conducting interviews and come up with questions to ask political leaders and planners. But here’s the kicker. Y’all ready? USE THEIR IDEAS! You’ll be surprised how insightful and fun it’ll be and you’ll remember back to when you were a kid who had an opinion on a topic that seemed too “grown up.”
Secondly, the programs we create for children must exist beyond transportation and act as an avenue (I love puns if you couldn’t guess) for real-world opportunities. This is something I experienced during my time managing the Bike Share for Youth Program at Citi Bike. This program aimed to educate low-income NYC young-adults aged 16-24 in bicycle safety and the impact that bikeshare can have on their daily lives. For participating, these students received a free annual membership to Citi Bike. During the three amazing years I ran this program, I began to realize that I kept getting asked the same question in almost each class we ran, “Can I get a job with y’all?”
At first, I shrugged it off as a funny anecdote not to be taken seriously. See? I too am guilty of undervaluing youth or viewing their questions as to not be taken seriously. It wasn’t until I noticed the frequency of this request that I had a change of heart—hearing about how some participants had used Citi Bike as a means to actually get to their jobs and how others used Citi Bike as a literal vehicle for employment opportunities, such as with Postmates. This resulted in an internal reflection and led to action during the last few classes I ran. We began bringing the program to youth-employment programs such as Learn & Earn, spearheaded by NYC’s Department of Youth and Community Development. I also created a slide in the presentation linking to bicycle mechanic and station technician jobs. We even hosted one or two job fairs at some of the partnering NGOs where we held the classes for years. Shoutout to Urban Ubound for that one!
The following articles I’ve chosen for this week’s newsletter may not necessarily be too recent. However, they all show the successes and shortcomings of programs and leadership across the globe who are attempting to center youth in their planning; or, showing the sometimes fatal repercussions when they don’t.
I talk about NYC frequently considering I grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
This is a clear example of a good-intentioned program geared at protecting NYC kids. Many programs, such as this one, are guilty of being reactionary instead of proactive. Why do these initiatives need a child to die in order for action to be taken?
“There, in a quiet residential neighborhood hard by JFK Airport, the Koch Administration radically altered the street grid with mid-block barricades that effectively turned high-speed thru-streets into dead ends. The move was made, several residents said, after a child was run over and killed by a driver.”
“Sama’s death renews calls for the city to protect kids walking to and from school, especially since earlier this summer, Mayor de Blasio told parents to drive their kids to school, while fully recognizing that that would mean exposing school-bound kids to even more road carnage.
We [Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio] talk curriculum and instruction. Never schools and streets.”
Really bro? Not only is this obviously not adding the input of children to the equation, but the fact that many New Yorkers don’t own cars must rely on walking, biking, or public transportation to get their kids to school - which many parents cannot do anyway due to their jobs.
THANK GOD this disconnected, tokenizing mayor is out this year! Don’t @ me.
Around the World
Why is Europe and Canada always ahead of the game when it comes to open space and equitable streets?
Two-way street: how Barcelona is democratising public space (The Guardian)
One of my favorite cities in the world, Barcelona, is coincidentally leading one of my favorite open-space projects in neighborhoods like Poblenou, called “super-blocks.” As mentioned above, this open-streets design is allowing kids to think differently about their streets and has opened metaphorical avenues as well for growth, learning, and collaboration.
“That’s the big change – the way we use the space and getting to know our neighbours. We’ve got three playgrounds and picnic areas where everyone congregates. You get kids doing their homework, elderly people playing Parcheesi, a democratisation of space just through putting in four picnic tables. There’s a real sense of identity with the place.”
“Through October and November 2017 we conducted seven focus group interviews at three secondary schools with 42 youth (22 girls, 20 boys) enrolled in grades 8 through 10. We asked them why they did or did not use the greenway, what they liked or did not like about it and what could be done to entice more youth to use it.”
An excellent model for how we should collect input from children and use that feedback in multimodal proposals and projects.
This article gives actual exercises urban planners can use to help adults think like a kid. These activities are also excellent to engage youth in more interactive thinking regarding transportation projects.
The Power of Thinking like a Child (Medium)
Although this article is uber technical and focused on physics and engineering, the concept is still relevant. Many entrepreneurs, CEOs, and tech leaders are conceptualizing ideas that they had when they were kids, saw in a cartoon, or were deemed as science fiction.
Despite what I said earlier, this is one of the more impactful national programs in the United States. However, their most recent data isn’t readily available.
Jobs you should apply for!
Where to find me: I’m currently working on a blog site and a few other writing projects. In the meantime, feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn at AJ Rosado.