Norte Launches Planning Program for Teens

For Immediate Release


August 22, 2019 — Traverse City, MI.  Norte Advocacy is introducing teens to urban planning this fall. Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is a six-week, student-informed practical course rooted in experiential understanding of how communities are planned, built, and changed over time. 

The program’s six weekly meetups will be facilitated by Norte’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Advocacy Director, Gary Howe, and owner of Parallel Solutions, Megan Olds, and will feature guest speakers from Traverse City’s professional planning community.

“Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community is built around a series of on-the-ground exercises that delve into student experiences and perceptions of community,” said Olds. “Young people have a real interest in learning how, and why, communities work and, in some cases, don’t work. Through the course, we hope to help them develop the skills to identify experiences related to community and place-based design, understand different lenses and contexts, and advocate for the things they want to see in their neighborhoods and community.”

The program is open to 13- to 18-year-olds interested in community leadership and planning. Students will graduate with advanced observational and communication skills in neighborhood planning. Course participants will shape the course’s direction, and will be supported by the Norte Advocacy team in any post-program efforts they decide to undertake.

“The things we can learn about any community are boundless, and when we start to learn about a community from other perspectives, the possibilities for understanding and supporting our neighbors are endless,” said Howe. “The Explore program is designed to give students layer upon layer of tools and skills to create a solid foundation for a lifetime of informed engagement.” 

The course is structured around six unique ways to explore a community, including experiencing mobility challenges from the perspective of someone using a wheelchair and seeing a streetscape through the eyes of an engineer. The advocacy curriculum will grow from participant-defined goals and projects.

The program runs September 29 through November 2 with weekly, 90-minute Sunday meet-ups in locations determined by planned experiences, weather and student input. The class costs $35 per participant, with scholarships available. The program is sponsored by the League of Michigan Bicyclists and Parallel Solutions. Sign up for the program is open through September 8. 

Learn more and sign up:  Explore Your Neighborhood, Shape Your Community

If you are interested in donating to the program’s scholarship fund or in becoming a corporate sponsor, please email Gary Howe at or contribute directly: Donate to Explore

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Program Facilitators

Megan Olds has dedicated her 20-year career to community growth and development, land and water conservation and restoration, food and farming systems, housing, transportation, and access to nature and outdoor recreation. She was a former Director of Regional Planning at Networks Northwest, and served as a past board member of the Michigan Association of Planning and of Michigan’s Complete Streets Advisory Council. She worked for seven years as the Associate Director and Director of Development for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Pairing her professional experience in community and organizational development with a personal zeal for building trust and openness in decision-making, Megan founded Parallel Solutions in 2014. You can find out more about her firm’s services, clients, and recent projects at

Gary Howe brings over 10 years of direct experience in creating and advocating for public policy and planning processes that support healthy transportation and socially-engaging public spaces to his role as Norte’s Advocacy Director. He served as a City Commissioner for the City of Traverse City from 2013-2017, in addition to serving on the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and on the boards of Neahtawanta Center, SEEDS, and International Affairs Forum. He is also a writer and New York Times-published photographer with over 20 years of teaching experience in China, Taiwan and Traverse City, including 15 years as an adjunct instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. You can see some of his photography on Insta at @GLH_Image and follow his writing and advocacy on Twitter @GLHJR.