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Eighth Grade Urban Ecologists Envision Superior Streets

teaching_speed_gun.jpgClocking car speeds at 92nd Street and Columbus. Photo: Lauren Brooks.

If you caught our Streetfilm last week, then you know about Livable Streets Education and our curriculum on urban livability, green transportation, and safer streets. We get a lot of questions about how our lessons work in the classroom, so I wanted to share a little bit about what we did this semester with the eighth grade at Dual Language Middle School (MS 247) on the Upper West Side.

Together with science teacher Lauren Brooks, we put together an eight-session learning unit centered on the question, “What is the impact of cars on the environment?” Students measured carbon dioxide levels and car speeds around the school, then compared the carbon footprint of commutes by driving, transit, and walking, using Transportation Alternatives' handy online tool, Rolling Carbon. We researched traffic calming measures and how to protect pedestrians, especially around school zones.

Based on their findings, the students brainstormed improvements to street design and the transit system. Some suggested equipping every avenue with exclusive bus lanes. Others came up with ways to reduce the number of cars on the road. Many students were aware of the MTA's current crisis, and funding public transportation with higher taxes on gasoline or SUVs was a popular idea.

What I found so moving about working with these students was how they grew to understand New York as a "green" city. At first, many of them thought we were the top polluter per capita nationwide, due to the conception of New York as a huge metropolis. They were surprised and pleased to learn that, in fact, their hometown is a leader in sustainability and the number one city in the country for transit ridership. By simply taking the subway, walking, or riding their bikes, they are urban environmentalists.

For project ideas, or to bring LSE to your school, please contact Livable Streets Education Director Kim Wiley-Schwartz at kwileyschwartz@streetseducation.org, or 212-796-4211.

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