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Teens of Panama City, Florida, had an amazing opportunity: to re-imagine their local parks and present their ideas to the City Commission. This happened during a 2-week youth charrette organized by ArchForKids, the LEAD Coalition of Bay County and the City of Panama City. Due to the pandemic, our participation in this project was entirely virtual.

In 2018, Hurricane Michael devastated Panama City, located in the Florida panhandle on the Gulf coast. The city is in the midst of rebuilding. While city officials hosted several planning sessions with adults, they realized they needed to hear from young people. “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.

First, ArchForKids developed a survey on city parks which was distributed to local middle and high school students. Then we assigned teens to take a walk around a local park and report back to us: what did you like? What needs improvement? What features would entice you to use a park and its recreational complex?

On September 12, more than 20 young people assembled at two locations (for social distancing) to design and build models of their ideal parks. On a huge screen, planning consultants Dover Kohl & Partners presented an overview of their work to re-make Panama City. Then Janny Gedeon, the founder of ArchForKids, explained the Design Process and showed visuals of innovative parks and recreation complexes to inspire the participants.

The teens were split into 6 teams, mentored by local college students. Each group had a laptop connected to the Zoom platform. ArchForKids educators checked in with each group on a regular basis to help refine their ideas and plans, assist with model making and more.
First, teams brainstormed the architectural program for their ideal parks. “We’re looking at dog parks, a rec center for sports, ponds, walkways and bike tracks,” reported student Anna-Katherine Risalvato. Next, they sketched a draft layout for their park. One design included a stage and concessions on the roof of the recreation center. Other designs included solar powered charging stations, a ropes course, skateparks, food trucks and water features – to name only a few examples. Then the model making began, with the students building park features on large cardboard bases. They used recycled boxes, pipe cleaners, tissue paper, popsicle sticks, twigs, and many other supplies to represent their visions and ideas.

The following Saturday, the young people finished the models of their ideal parks. The day concluded with each team presenting their models and plans. An edited version of these presentations was screened to the City Commission and excerpts can be seen in the video below. In addition, the models are on public display at the Panama City Center for the Arts.

“This was a meaningful, real-world project. The participants are hopeful that many of their ideas will be implemented when the parks are re-designed,” said Janny Gedeon. “For ArchForKids, it extended our capacities for virtual programming to a multi-week, ambitious project. Thanks to Janice Lucas, the ED of the LEAD Coalition, for conceiving the charrette, and to the city’s Quality of Life Department for their assistance every step of the way.”

To view a photo album of the Panama City Youth Charrette, click here.

Several news outlets in the Panama City area featured the charrette. Check out the coverage: here, here and here.