For the first time in history most people on the planet live in urban settings. There are few places left in the world more than a day’s travel from a city. The growth of cities, both in population and area, will be a creative challenge for this and future generations. So it makes sense when covering a unit on “cities” or researching Spanish-speaking countries to engage students in considering what makes a place livable and how to achieve it.
The Green Map system (available in five languages) provides a set of internationally recognized icons to map the places in a city that make it sustainable, inclusive and healthy or that, conversely, detract from these goals.
A few ideas:
Map where you live. One way to use the Green Map icons is to map the community where you live or even map your school campus. Students choose the icons most important to them, create maps and then place the icons on the map. Students can make up their own icons or come up with a plan to improve the community. As a model, you can take a look at the “open” maps on the web site. Another resource is Santiago de Chile’s Ciudad Viva. They’ve mapped their city and continue to work to make Santiago a more sustainable, healthy, inclusive place. One interesting detail included in their map is that air quality tends to be lower in economically depressed neighborhoods. A good question to explore locally! See also the pages on this blog about strategies of sustainable cities in the Tunza magazine and Getting Around in the City.
Invent a City. Once I asked students to draw a map of the ideal city, without disregarding challenges such as sanitation services, transportation, etc. Students can include innovative strategies currently employed by cities (such as vertical and/or rooftop gardens). As an oral assessment students describe the map or give advice about where to go.
Un Proyecto-Mi Vida Virtual en la Ciudad: Instead of assigning the usual project to research a “visit” to a Latin American city, I asked my intermediate students (level 3) to imagine what it might authentically be like to live there. To do so required some background work.
First I showed them some characteristics of Latin American cities, such as plazas, avenidas and comunas.
We also talked about quality of life: ¿Qué necesitas para vivir bien? ¿Es posible que todos en una ciudad vivan bien? In addition to the Green Map icons, advanced or particularly curious classes can explore the differences among indicadores de calidad de vida, such as GDP, HDI (Human Development Index) and GPI (Genuine Progress Indicators).
Next we brainstormed as a class all the things you might want to know about a city before you move there. Then we formed groups of five to research a Latin American city. All groups were responsible for researching the top five brainstormed topics (for example: a map, the transportation system, the economy, housing, food availability and customs). Each group added five more research topics of personal interest to them (sports, culture, air quality, public spaces or parks, climate etc.). While students listened to each group’s presentation they marked on a chart whether or not the city being presented included the elements most important to them. At that point students could select a city to “virtually” live in for the next couple weeks.
In this activity students were “themselves”-American students. Some of the tasks I assigned included looking for an apartment, going shopping and making a meal, participating in recreation of some sort and imagining a “problem” and how it was resolved (getting lost, losing a passport, having a health crisis, looking for a job). Here’s the twist: I decided to research income levels in each city and I randomly assigned the students “living” in the city an income. So students had to create some sort of budget and those without a lot of money had to figure out strategies for making ends meet (Can you afford to rent a house? an apartment? a room? How many room mates do you need? What’s it like?) Students had to assume that getting another job or moving in with their rich cousin was not possible. In the end they wrote a journal reflection about their experience and what they learned.