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Honoring voices, inspiring futures: Young people's engagement in open space planning


Engaging children and youth in open space planning produces meaningful outcomes

This report describes how Boulder, Colorado engaged children and youth with the city’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) department in identifying strategies to enhance visitor experiences to the North Trail Study Area (TSA). This reports also describes the outcomes of the children’s engagement in the project and the reflections of youth and adults on the process.

Ninety-five children (age 4 -17) participated in the project. Their participation took place in three different venues with differing types of engagement. One venue involved 10 preschool children from Boulder Journey School. Following a multi-month curricular focus on insects, the children visited Wonderland Lake on the North TSA to look for and learn about insects around the lake. They also participated in a conversation about what they liked about Wonderland Lake and offered recommendations on how it might be improved. The second venue involved 25 children and their families in a Family Day event held at Wonderland Lake. Materials at indoor and outdoor stations provided information about the natural features of the area and invited adult and child participants to indicate what features of the area they would like to “keep, change, or add.” Staff worked with the children to facilitate their active participation and to record their ideas. The third venue involved 60 youth participating in a Junior Ranger Program working with the OSMP staff in managing OSMP land. After field observations and group-facilitated discussions, collective recommendations for an “ideal vision” were developed.

Children and youth perspectives fell into four categories: direct experience with nature, nature protection, nature interpretation and education, and broader city planning issues. These perspectives led to concrete changes to the city’s plan for Wonderland Lake. Feedback from the children and youth also influenced OSMP stated attitudes and resulted in organizational shifts within OSMP to allow for greater youth participation in future planning initiatives.

This study indicates that children and youth can contribute to planning for natural lands in positive and productive ways. These findings also affirm young people’s interest in protecting the natural environment and inspired a sense of “hope for the future” for city planners and others working for positive change.


Derr, V., Ruppi, H., Wagner, D., (2016). Honoring voices, inspiring futures: Young people's engagement in open space planning. Children, Youth and Environments, 26(2), 128-144.


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