Dozens of would-be developers pitched a series of innovative projects to city staff and politicians last week.
The proposals for a slice of land just west of city hall included ideas incorporating green space, underground parking, pedestrian-focused shopping, and small homes for seniors with dementia and students.
The plans aren’t as fully realized as some that come before the city, but that’s due to a short two-week deadline given to the applicants. That and the fact those applicants are in Grade 7.
A little more than two weeks ago, Abbotsford Christian School students were told to make a plan for an L-shaped piece of land currently home to the city’s soon-to-be replaced courthouse, the Abbotsford School District’s head office, a city parking lot, and a handful of homes – some of which have been bought by the city.
The students were split into teams and given a quick briefing on the city’s general planning goals for the area – in particular, breaking up large blocks and relying on underground parking.
They came back with ideas, designs and hand-crafted scale models to improve the area for both new residents and the broader community.
One group planned a tiny-home village for seniors with dementia. Another pitched a tiny-house community that could be sold or rented to students and others seeking affordable homes. Others featured condo buildings (in line with the Official Community Plan’s vision for the neighbourhood), complemented by parks and, in one case, the region’s first indoor skatepark. And one group pitched a main-street-like shopping area centred not around an internal road, but a small tree-lined stream.
Last Wednesday, the students pitched their ideas directly to Mayor Henry Braun and several councillors.
The event was “a little nerve-wracking,” said Kailyn Dieleman, whose team had suggested the village for dementia patients. Combining the group members’ ideas for the site was “fun and challenging,” she said.
Madi Bruinsma, whose team developed the stream-centred Main Street idea, said it was exciting to pitch the plan to Braun.
“You don’t get to do that very often,” she said. “He said he liked all the places he could go for lunch on his break.”
The land in question was singled out by city planners, after the ACS teachers had sought their inclusion in the school project.
Senior planner Blake Collins “and his team have been incredible,” ACS vice-principal Jonathan Zuidhof said.
The project didn’t just see the students learn about modern urban planning principles like the mixing of spaces and incorporation of green space. One group used a 3-D printer to create scale models of buildings, while another us ed an online program to create a rendering of their suggested condo. The designs also provide insight into what the students see as pressing needs for Abbotsford.
A tiny-house village aimed to provide cheap homes for students, with each unit designed to collect rainwater and minimize power usage.
“As a group we worked very hard,” Chanine Klaus said.
Most incorporated at least one park, recreation facility or green space area. Several suggested community gardens, while one team called for a 7,000-square-foot indoor skatepark.
“There actually is no indoor skate park in the whole Fraser Valley,” Reuben Draistra said. “In Abbotsford, it rains a lot and if you’re in a small house, you don’t have much to do when it rains.”
Housing was also on the minds of many, with Marissa Busink’s team suggesting large apartment buildings, a home for a central BC Ambulance station, tennis courts, a basketball court and a large park.
“The population is going up in Abbotsford, so more housing would be beneficial,” she said.
And the mayor was listening, saying youth can play a “meaningful role” in planning Abbotsford’s future.
“It was inspiring to listen to the presentations of the Grade 7 students as they shared their thoughtful plans on how to shape our community,” he said.
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