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Derr, V., Chawla, L., & Mintzer, M. (2018). Placemaking with children and youth: Participatory practices for planning sustainable communities. New York: New Village Press.

416 pages

ISBN: 9781613321003


Children and the Right to be Heard

Placemaking with Children and Youth is a practitioner’s guidebook for involving young people in the planning and design of city spaces. Referring to the UN declaration of the Rights of the Child, the authors argue that young people have an equal right to adults to be included in local planning processes and that cities have a responsibility to include youth, particularly those on the margins. Without youth participation, “the public” is not being served. Youth involvement from this perspective is not just about teaching youth how to participate so they can be engaged citizens when they are grown; the goal of engaging youth is to ensure they thrive while they are still young. The UN declaration establishes the child’s right to respect for their views along with their right to have their physical, spiritual and psychological needs met. To meet the needs of children, we have to plan our cities with them. As illustrated in this book, planning with and for youth is valuable in meeting the needs of youth, as well as the community at large. Placemaking effectively offers ideas and guidelines for engaging youth of all ages, by offering numerous examples and case studies of cities around the world involving youth in local planning and design projects. The main case study throughout the book is “Growing Up Boulder” in Boulder, Colorado. Two of the authors worked on this project, which is part of UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative. Inspiring examples from Boulder and beyond are described in detail and the reader is walked through the steps of each project from inception to completion.

Advocacy Planning

Principles of advocacy planning are at the core of involving youth. Young people are regularly excluded from decision making processes that directly affect them. Filling this void requires outreach and advocacy for the empowerment of marginalized communities. Additionally, societal power structure plays out within groups of young people, so to capture the needs and perspectives of all youth requires extra focus on marginalized young people. Placemaking takes a proactive stance on the need for advocacy planning and offers advice to democratize public engagement. “Participation shifts the emphasis from government action and decision-making to democratic engagement, where all members of a community have expertise on the places where they live, and can meaningfully contribute to shaping their physical structure and policies.” (11). To leverage collective power in a community, community organizing methods are outlined as part of the strategy, including identifying and working with local leaders from a broad network. “Early leadership is essential to developing a program that fits the community, to identifying a network of interested and potential partners, and to providing consistency” (13). The importance of working with local leaders is reinforced later in the book when the issue of trust is raised. Equally important to strong leaders is a broad base of stakeholder engagement. “Stakeholders are any individual or organization who can influence or be impacted by project outcomes” (19). Partner identification needs to include children and youth and “should also ensure that marginalized populations are included”. While focused on the necessity of youth inclusion, Placemaking provides a strong blueprint for advocacy and inclusion of all marginalized communities. Following methods illustrated in the book will enrich the democratic process of any project.

Tools for Youth Engagement

The meat of the book is the chapters on methods for engaging youth. It starts with recommendations for research about the place and the community you are working in by studying its history, surveying residents, behavior mapping, and other methods. Strategies are offered for involving youth in this part of the project. The next several chapters impart various tips, activities and other engagement strategies to guide and support practitioners as they introduce methods to include the voices of young people. Each method comes with a description of the activities as well as images and figures that help flesh out what it is and how to do it. Case studies from Growing up Boulder and other city projects from around the world illustrate the efficacy of the outlined methods. The writing is concise while being thorough; images, bullet points and good structure make the text easy to understand so it can be used either to read through in detail or for quick reference.

The book is organized by engagement method: art-based, interviews, tours, and workshops, for example. Each section has a variety of activities that can be employed, complete with materials lists and time outlines. These activity outlines are designed to be read at the time they will be implemented. Nonetheless, reading through all of them at once is a valuable exercise as different tips are imparted in each which collectively train the reader on what to pay attention to when working with children. For example, in one activity a suggestion is made to separate kids according to grade level so they can relate with each other, while another activity includes advice for making it safe for children of immigrants by allowing both vulnerable sharing and private non-disclosure. Advice for working with different age groups is dispensed as well, such as to give a lot of encouragement to teens to take leadership and to work within the parameters of smaller children’s short attention span. The emphasis on hands-on, active programming is suggested for all age groups, as the goal is for participation to be immersive and fun.

Reflection Tools to Ensure the Process is a Success

In this section, the reader is walked through specific activities and checklists to support positive closing of a youth participation project.

The authors point out “that while many academics place value on tangible outcomes such as master plans or design-builds, communities can place equal or sometimes greater value on dialogues and connections fostered through participatory design processes, wherein safe spaces are created” (308). In reflecting on the success of the process it is important to evaluate efficacy according to the values of the community being served. For children in particular, the writers stress the importance of adequate follow through. For the experience to have a positive impact on the participants, children need to see that their input made a difference. Suggestions are to report back directly to let the youth know which parts will be implemented, as well as when and how. This is particularly important since kids are likely to have grown and moved on before their ideas impact the physical environment. Involving youth in evaluating engagement methods and in reflecting on outcomes is important in wrapping up a project. Suggestions for reflection among the adults is provided as well, with emphasis given to make sure all stakeholders and volunteers feel important to the process. After covering the question of whether the engagement method itself was successful, the book goes on to give pointed suggestions for implementation


This book is full of insights that inspire the reader, which are especially relevant for planners. One reason that youth involvement is indispensable to the city is the point made about children being naturally more empathetic of all living beings. Addressing their concerns will result in a more livable city for all people as well as plants and animals. Another intriguing insight is that because children are sensitive to their environment when the environment is not being taken care of, they feel they themselves are not being taken care of. To adequately take care of our children, we have to take care of the environment in which they grow. These and other moments in the writing expand the goal of youth involvement to being about creating a better quality of life for all residents of the city.

Placemaking with Children and Youth provides a hands-on guide for realizing the vision of participatory and ethical planning. The needs of marginalized communities, in particular the needs of children in those communities, are prioritized throughout the book. Nurturing resilience is a theme; this perspectives holds strong people and communities as the backbone of resilience. Even a practitioner who is not well versed in participatory planning can achieve impressive outcomes by carrying out activities illustrated in this book. This book links theory and action and makes action accessible. Methods suggested are useful for working with adults as well. Suggestions in the book can be adapted and applied to all community engagement projects and result in dramatic positive changes in engaged individuals and communities. The result will be youth who feel respected, nurtured and empowered. Listening to our youth is sure to improve the future; this book tells us how to listen.

Maya Amichai began their career in urban planning by moving from city to city throughout their 20’s, which stirred their analysis of cities from the vantage point of the streets. They since earned a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from McGill University and are currently living in the Bay Area and working for The City of Vacaville.



We feature stories on inclusive urban planning practices, grassroots organizing, and civic action. Our contributors and readers are activists, reporters, practitioners, academics, and community members.


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