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After much success working with a talented group of teens in Panama City, Florida this past year, ArchForKids had the opportunity to produce a new 2-day design charrette this spring. Upping the ante, this time the teens were asked to reimagine how four vacant spaces owned by the city could be redesigned to transform barren lots into beautiful and functional community spaces. They were allowed to choose between any of the four lots and the best part is their designs will inspire actual city projects! 

Teen design charrette

The teens were quite excited by this real-life challenge and worked hard to come up with innovative and creative ways to turn these unused spaces into valuable areas in their community. Some of the participants even spent free time outside the charrette visiting the space they had chosen to redesign. Mentors from local universities helped facilitate the workshop and provided direction to the groups. Their work did not go unnoticed, as the teens were interviewed by local media and even received specially designed t-shirts recognizing their efforts.

Teen design challenge PC

The charrette took place on March 18 & 19, and was a collaboration between LEAD Coalition of Panama City and the Panama City Quality of Life Department with ArchForKids educators and staff participating remotely with the use of virtual video conferencing. 

PC Teen Design Charrette

This initiative will help inspire the Panama City government as they implement aspects of the young designers’ ideas to transform the spaces. The Quality of Life Department will be sharing the results of the charrette and the teens’ ideas with the city council, who will be working to fund the real-life transformation projects. 

In 2018 Hurricane Michael devastated Panama City, located in the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf Coast, and for the past 2 years the city has been in the midst of planning and rebuilding. After holding several planning sessions with adults in the community, city officials came to realize they needed to hear from young people as well.  “Let’s engage the youth of the community to get their input because they’re going to be the longest user of all the amenities that are going to be added,” said Panama City Quality of Life Director, Sean De Palma. 

PC Teen Design Challenge

In this effort to include young people in the discussion, the idea for a youth design charrette was born. Held in September of 2020, ArchForKids was honored to participate in the first charrette, a bold initiative that would include the city’s young people in the planning process of rebuilding the city. During that first design challenge, teens were invited to design a Teen-friendly park and recreation center. The program was a huge hit and the finished models were shared with the community and city council. To learn more about the September Teen Park Design charrette, check out the blog post here

The theme for the second Teen Design charrette in March was Vacant Spaces. To begin the event, the ArchForKids team shared a presentation about why vacant spaces are detrimental to the community and explained the basics of urban planning, park design and other related topics. We then shared a few examples of ways other communities have transformed vacant lots into functional communal spaces. A local park designer, who designed a pocket park in Panama City, treated the teens to a presentation aimed at providing real-world insights into the design process along with tips on how to create a great park in a small space. 

PC Teen Design Project

Nineteen teens between ages 11 and 19 volunteered to use two of their spring break vacation days to help their community. During a pre-charrette introduction video call we asked the young designers why they wanted to participate in the program. Answers included “because I care about my community and want to have an impact on its future”, “it sounds like fun”, and “I like architecture and being creative”. 

Following the presentations, the teens were divided into groups of three and given the choice of four actual vacant spaces to reinvent. These spaces varied in size, neighborhood location, level of development and other factors. Once each group chose their space they brainstormed as a group and developed an architectural program. Then they created a sketch of how their space would be laid out, before creating a 3D model of the design. 

The designers kept the community’s needs in mind and used their own first-hand experience to include features they believe their city currently lacks. Many of the groups chose to design parks for their spaces and included unique features such as fish ponds, dog parks, sports areas, skate parks, picnic bench areas, performance stages and more. 

Throughout both days the teams received one-on-one feedback from ArchForKids educators, college-aged mentors and special guests, including several professionals in the architecture field. Once the students completed their models they gave group presentations on their design plans, which were filmed and then edited into a presentation for city leaders. 

On the final day of the charrette, the teens gathered to perform a group-wide brainstorming session for an additional vacant lot the city would like to transform. The space is a smaller bayside lot with a beautiful view. Some of the group ideas included a small stage for concerts, picnic tables for eating and enjoying the ocean view, a kinetic art installation, and a community garden. 

PC Teen Design Challenge

During a post-charette survey several participants shared how hopeful they are to see their ideas implemented in the future development projects in the city. We enjoyed the invitation to participate in such a unique and impactful community initiative and look forward to continuing to work with Panama City and other municipalities to make sure young community members have an input on the future of the spaces they call home.

To see more pictures from the design charrette, check out this Flickr album