Back to School: Preparing the Next Generation of Regional Leaders


With new backpacks and school supplies in tow, students across the country are heading back to school. They probably are not thinking about the regional planning that went into creating the transportation system that brought them to school. Nor the interjurisdictional trails that connect the parks that they will use for soccer practice. No, they are probably more focused on where their classes are at than knowing where their community’s natural disaster emergency evacuation routes are located.

Some regional councils are trying to teach the next generation that even being as young as they are, they can significantly impact their communities. Just as Mara Mintzer highlighted in her TedxMileHigh talk, children should be included in local planning efforts. After all, they may help regional planners find a blind spot in how we construct our built environment that we adults have not considered. The decisions being made today will impact their tomorrow, so it is imperative that they know how to be a part of the long-range planning process that may influence their way of life 20, 30, or even 50 years from now.

Below are some examples of how members are educating young leaders about regional planning and are involving them in ongoing efforts across their communities.

Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) – Think Like a Planner Program

Broward MPO has held several “Think Like a Planner” workshops in high schools across the region. During these workshops, teens get an introduction to transportation planning and potential careers in the industry. After a walk around the neighborhood surrounding Broward MPO offices, the students are tasked with coming up with ways to make the area safer for all modes of transportation. They then turn these ideas into a proposal, presenting to a three-judge panel of transportation professionals and Broward MPO Board Members. The organization has seen great success with the program and is looking forward to hosting more workshops this school year.

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) – Future Leaders in Planning Program

For ten years, CMAP has organized Future Leaders in Planning (FLIP), a leadership development opportunity for high school students in Northeastern Illinois. Over the course of a week during the summer, the students learn about the issues that are shaping the Chicago region and come up with solutions for some of the challenges facing urban planners. Activities throughout the 5-day bootcamp include:

  • A scavenger hunt to find bus stops, LEED-certified buildings, and public art;
  • Negotiating a mock community development project;
  • Designing their own sample plan for the new Obama Foundation central plaza; and
  • Completing a final group project where they visualized the goals of CMAP’s ON TO 2050 plan across the different scales of urban planning.

Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) – Model Atlanta Regional Commission

Bringing together 10th and 11th graders from the Atlanta metro area, ARC’s Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC) provides experimental learning opportunities in critical issue areas such as transportation, sustainability, and community development. Participants take part in a six-month program to learn from subject-matter experts and community leaders, engaging in thoughtful conversations about challenges the region is facing. Students are taken on field trips and visits to various community partners to receive hands-on learning about the efforts of different stakeholders throughout their region. They also develop leadership, communication, and collaboration skills by creating actionable solutions to current regional issues. After participating in MARC, students have expressed a better understanding of the considerations that go into the different issue areas that ARC regional planners have to think about, as well as how their entire 10-county region is interconnected.