Students for Safer Streets: Learning from the New Generation of Activists

Students and faculty at Glenbrook Middle School in New Westminster pose for a group photo in front of the improved intersection in front of their school.

When Chloe, a student at Glenbrook Middle School in New Westminster, British Columbia, was feeling unsafe on her bike ride to school, as cars failed to yield and turned too fast, she decided to take action.

Chloe took her concerns to the City and the school, and they listened. That’s when Spin partnered with Happy City, a Vancouver-based urban planning and design consultancy, to help Chloe and her classmates make her plans into a reality.

“We knew that students wanted to be able to walk, roll and bike to school safely, but we were overwhelmed by the level of interest and support there was for this project—from the school, parents, the City, Spin, and most importantly, the students,” said Mitchell Reardon, Senior Urban Planner and Designer at Happy City.

The goal was to engage students to help foster a sense of ownership and community while empowering them to make positive change. Working with their art teacher, Angela Jurgensen, students submitted designs for curb bump-outs—extensions that ensure that cars make slower and more cautious turns—based on the theme: “Celebrating Sustainable Communities.”

After, Happy City and the art teacher at Glenbrook evaluated the submissions and grouped them into six design schemes, which the students would vote on to create a shortlist. That shortlist was evaluated by a selection panel made up of the school’s administration, some staff and Council members from the City of New Westminster, and Happy City staff. The winning theme was “Colourful Geometric Patterns.”

About 30 students came out to help paint the streets. For Happy City staff, it was a heartening example of the next generation coming together for a common cause to bring good to the community.

“It was super rewarding to see this student-led project come to life,” Cheri Hessami, Urbanist and Project Coordinator at Happy City, said. “The sense of pride the students had while painting the bump-outs was evident. We even overheard one student tell their friend, ‘I’m going to bring my kids back here in 20 years and show them how we made our street safer!’”

Reardon described the experience as giving him “hope for a generation with youthful optimism that is growing up to make the world a little bit better.”

He noted, “New Westminster is one of the most diverse places in Canada; there are more than 100 languages spoken in this corridor. Whether you have 10 generations here or you arrived last week, you can help shape your community.”

The students, parents, and faculty have seen the project as an overwhelmingly positive improvement. And the New Westminster School Board is looking to expand this program to create an even wider reach.

Having Spin’s support was key, Reardon said. “In many cases, municipalities struggle to find the motivation to reallocate street space. Having an entity like Spin, an organization that also emphasizes connection and relationship-based work, helps to support the demonstration of the need. We have so much underused street and road space. These types of partnerships will help us to find purposes for that space.”

Ultimately, though, it was Chloe, a seventh grader with a vision for a safer world, who started a movement to make her community’s streets safer.

Reardon describes this project as “pure co-creation from the very start from the very end.”

This project was reviewed by accessibility consultants Marco and Karin Pasqua, at Marco Pasqua Enterprises.

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