Civics students at WLHS create their own cities from the ground up

by: VERN UYETAKE  - West Linn High School students Jimmy Donnelly, center, and Marcus Campbell present their plan to West Linn Mayor John Kovash.Juniors and seniors at West Linn High School handled the complexities of laying water lines, designing fire stations and building within zoning restrictions during a recent City Design Project.

The civics class project was created by WLHS teacher Todd Jones. Each year, students are given topographical maps of West Linn and are required to design a city for 20,000 residents. The goal of the project is to teach students about land zoning, infrastructure and the role of public services, which are provided according to a city’s tax base.

“One of the things I want students to understand is the concept of federalism — that the same people on the same land can be governed by multiple governments ... and help them understand the differences between municipalities, the state and the federal government,” Jones VERN UYETAKE  - West Linn City Councilor Thomas Frank evaluates a student presentation.

This year’s class of 30 students worked on their projects for two weeks in groups of three. They presented their plans to city officials Jan. 28. Officials in attendance included: Mayor John Kovash, City Manager Chris Jordan, Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt, City Council President Mike Jones, Councilor Thomas Frank, City Recorder Kathy Mollusky, Associate Planner Tom Soppe, Associate Planner Sara Javoronok, Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester and Recreation Director Ken Warner.

City officials spent about 20 minutes with each group, asking questions and providing feedback as the students explained the reasoning behind each layout and design. Jones said the students had “nervous excitement” while showing off their work.

“Todd Jones is an exceptional teacher, and he does a great job conveying the complexities and challenges of land use planning to his students in a fun and relatable way,” Assistant City Manger Kirsten Wyatt said, noting the city has participated in the project for several years. “We have found that each year, the projects get better and better.”

by: VERN UYETAKE  - Brandon Jordan listens to feedback from West Linn City Council President Mike Jones.

City Design Project

The project is loosely inspired by the computer game SimCity, which allows players to build cities, amusement parks, zoos and more. Students were given a budget and required to create three overlays on 2-by-3-feet pieces of transparency paper.

“First we identified the myriad of things the government does for us,” Jones said. “Then we asked, ‘Who is doing what?’ to make sure the students understand where public services are coming from. ... This project helps students understand what it is their city does for them in a way they would never learn from a text book.”

The first overlay focused on zoning issues and required students to make decisions about residential, commercial and industrial land. The second overlay focused on infrastructure and required students to develop a water source, water storage facilities, sewage treatment systems, power sources, transportation networks and more.

The third overlay focused on public services and required students to develop facilities like schools, parks, fire stations, zoos, arenas and more — if they still had money within their budget to do so.

“It comes down to quantities, proximities and placement,” Jones said, noting students used West Linn facilities and city planning for guidance.

Wyatt said city officials were impressed with the students’ ingenuity and creative design.

“West Linn High School students are creative, intelligent and thoughtful,” she said. “We were so impressed with the energy and enthusiasm they brought to this project. They showed an aptitude for land use planning and a knowledge beyond their years.

“They correctly recognized the challenges associated with planning and embraced the opportunities to create their vision of a perfectly planned West Linn.”

The students’ work, Jones added, is a reflection of the city’s willingness to engage with the school community.

“I have to give kudos to the city,” he said. “I reach out to those folks all the time and they are always readily available to offer assistance to kids and help create really meaningful learning opportunities.”by: VERN UYETAKE  - Garrett Watson makes his group presentation to West Linn City Councilor Thomas Frank.

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