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Lego brings urban planning to life for Toronto students

Like Toronto, the fictional city their development was in also grapples with problems like food deserts, homelessness and, of course, parking.

Students from Forest Hill Collegiate weren’t just playing with Lego Thursday afternoon, they were building tiny neighbourhoods in a city building exercise.

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Students from Forest Hill Collegiate weren’t just playing with Lego Thursday afternoon, they were building tiny neighbourhoods in a city building exercise.

As a child Patrick Yutiga loved making Lego cities and would sit for hours constructing miniature bus stations, fire halls and airports.

The Grade 11 student at Forest Hill Collegiate got to revisit his childhood hobby Thursday afternoon, as part of an innovative exercise from the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that encourages responsible land use.

The program, which started in the U.S., aims to show students how urban planning works by bringing potentially dry topic to life.

“Having this workshop is a completely great opportunity for me to learn what the reality of city building actually is and not just in terms of imagining your ideal fantasy city,” said Yutiga, who aspires to be an urban planner or transportation engineer.

The students were divided into teams and given the task of designing a new, mixed-use development while balancing competing demands like affordable housing, business interests and environmental standards.

For example, Yutiga’s team had to think on their feet when they realized they “couldn’t create underground parking due to soil conditions.”

And like Toronto, the fictional city their development was in also grapples with problems like food deserts, homelessness and, of course, parking.

“It’s a problem solving exercises with real issues and applicability to their own neighbourhoods,” said teacher Edward Ketchum.

It’s the first time the project has been done in Canada, but ULI hopes to expand it for other schools.

Richard Joy, executive director of ULI Toronto, said the process is actually pretty similar to what real planners and developers do in terms of modeling.

“The same exact exercise is being done by seasoned professionals,” he said.

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