A big, exciting world awaits you

Believe it or not, northern Michigan is part of a global revolution. Worldwide, citizen advocates are engaging with their communities and questioning how public space is allocated. The central pivot is how places should prioritize people versus their vehicles? Which comes first when we develop master plans, construct budgets, or design streets? This discussion happens in large cities like New York and Bogotá, and in villages like Elk Rapids and Kalkaska.

Planner, engineer, and global advocate Janette Sadik-Khan often says that streets are the front yards for children. To develop independence, confidence, and a spirit of exploration, they need to open the front door and experience the world. As a community, it’s our job to ensure that they not only have the encouragement, tools, and skills to do so safely but that they are protected and encouraged by design. This happens by prioritizing children in those community plans at all levels — states, cities, townships, and districts, like a neighborhood association or a downtown authority.

We also need to directly include children and young adults in the process. After all, when reconstructing a street, we are making a generational commitment. If you’re 18 today when they rebuild a street, you’ll be 50 years old when it’s rebuilt again. Yet we often redesign for our current needs rather than the next generation’s. When we ask the younger generation what they need and how they see the world, we move closer to achieving something worthy of 2051 and beyond.

This fall, Norte will host the third annual Explore Academy to empower more teens to engage and represent in how their community is developed. It is both an introduction to the built environment and its impact on our lives. It requires students to imagine a part of their community and improve it. In the past two academies, participants have identified small needs, like a missing bench in a park, and complex structural problems, like the multiple disconnects created by a major high-speed highway in your community.

Each class has explored the built environment with a curious eye. Both previous years (2019 Report2020 Report) were willing to provide constructive opinions and find praise when they saw something well done. Our trust is that they take the experience forward as they continue to become part of their community.  As one student from 2019 recapped, “The strength of Explore Academy is to show teenagers that they are part of the community, have a voice, and can help to make it better.”

Exactly — engage and represent. It’s a lesson for all of us. ?


Gary Howe, Advocacy and Communications Director

P.S. Explore Academy is open to teenagers, 13-18. Meetups are Sundays from 10:30 am-noon and utilize in-person and online formats in a six-week course. As in the past, students in Mr. Ready and Ms. Paige’s AP Government and civics classes at Traverse City West and Central can meet their community service hours credit through participation n the academy. Students need to check with their teachers for possible credits earned at other schools. Registration is open




We don’t spam, and we don’t share your contact info. However, we get excited about the fantastic people, places, and activities in Northern Michigan.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.