It's probably safe to assume that Michelle Elliott, a senior at Wilson Magnet High School on Genesee Street, normally paid more attention to styles of clothes rather than styles of street lights. But tasked with an assignment by her Participation in Government teacher, Mr. James Caswell, Michelle began glancing upwards more often. As she surveyed her own neighborhood near the beach in Charlotte, Michelle decided that the decorative street lighting there would also be a fantastic addition to Jefferson Avenue, an area near her school that is receiving a lot of attention due to recent City revitalization efforts there. "Decorative metal light posts- like the ones near the beach- would give Jefferson Avenue a warmer feeling. It'll make it look homey," Michelle offered during her presentation.
Michelle's suggestions came as she and her classmates were asked, if it were up to them, how $100,000 from the City's Jefferson Avenue Revitalization Project would get allocated in street enhancements. To help them complete the exercise, they learned that street enhancements could include benches, banners, decorative sidewalks, light posts, and bus shelters, among other features. Then, they assembled into groups and brainstormed exactly how they would like to see the money spent. The groups presented their findings to Mr. Caswell and City representatives, including project engineer Ms. Lisa Reyes, and the Southwest's Neighborhood Service Center administrator, Mr. David Hawkes.
Keenly, the students did not limit their ideas to the hard streetscape. They recognized the value in first cleaning up and beautifying the area before simply improving the street and its adornments. Prem Timsina and Hemanta Adhikari, students that hail from Nepal but have an insightful handle on what their new local community could benefit from, suggested the addition of a park and a playground for neighborhood kids. Travontae Marshall and Cameron Bailey followed suit as their plans included planting trees and flowers in a vacant lot near Hawley Street. Michelle even set aside a full $20,000 of her $100,000 allocation for a pre-project cleanup of the area that would target mowing lawns, weeding, and picking up litter.
Once the neighborhood was sparkling, each group felt more comfortable applying the funds towards the streetscape. Many of them encouraged the City to add a covered, decorative bus shelter for people to hang out in while waiting for RTS. Most of the groups also wanted to see welcoming banners and a predominant gateway feature that would help to identify the neighborhood and orient tourists who might be stopping through.
In addition to having street elements attract visitors, Mr. Caswell's seniors also picked up on the fact that without private development along Jefferson Avenue, people still might not be inclined to stop in the neighborhood. They mentioned attracting nation-wide chains like Foot Locker or Finish Line, and bringing in fast food restaurants that they could visit after school let out. One student mentioned that festivals or concerts would be a great asset to Jefferson Avenue, just like it was in other city neighborhoods she had visited, like Park Avenue.
The assignment did more than help the City collect suggestions on the Jefferson Avenue project. By encouraging them to envision what a local neighborhood could transform into, it helps some of our brightest young people become more involved and invested in their community. Their teacher candidly admitted that when he was their age, he could not wait to move out of Rochester, and as a result, he spent many years in Atlanta. But, he said, the move only made him recognize how terrific his hometown was and how he could not wait to move back and start his life here.
His words gave context to an assignment that might have seemed like just any other class requirement. Mr. Caswell was hoping that this exercise prompted his students to dreamingly look towards the sky and envision what kind of Rochester they'd want to stay in or return to, as he did. Checking out the street lights as they gazed upwards was simply an added bonus.
Check out the project comment sheet that the students used as a basis for their projects.