Plenty of time and energy has been invested in re-imagining downtown Westport — deciding what’s needed to inject a little life in the ol’ place.
There’s been much talk too about the importance of developing Westport students’ critical thinking, 21st-century skills.
The twain met today at Coleytown Middle School. Five teams of 8th-grade students — winnowed down from a few dozen who began the project — presented their plans for making downtown both prettier and zippier.
Analytical thinking — not to mention a great grasp of history, government, finance, town planning, the environment, Google Earth, Photoshop, Excel, writing, video-making and presentation skills — was on full display in the auditorium.
The 5 groups (4-5 students each) unveiled their ideas before a group of judges that included the 2nd selectman and superintendent of schools. (Also, me.)
Using maps, 3-models, full-color handouts, detailed financial projections — and, most importantly, foresight and creativity — the middle schoolers introduced a variety of ideas. For example:
- Improved landscaping, including flowers and more trees (planted and maintained by volunteers, lowering costs and increasing a sense of community)
- Adding birdhouses (built by volunteers) and old-fashioned lampposts
- A movie theater in the current YMCA building, showing now-available-0n-DVD films (lowering costs)
- More street festivals
- A greenbelt replacing the current one-lane exit from Parker Harding Plaza
- More restaurants (family-style, multicultural, a diner…)
- Minibus transportation from outlying parking areas
- Improving and lighting the tunnel from Main Street to Parker Harding (also done by volunteers)
- Renovating the boardwalk across from Oscar’s, extending it further into the Saugatuck River and making it more inviting (the money would come from sales of planks, with donors’ names on them)
- Developing the river’s west side into a “community complex,” with restaurants, an arcade, community theater, snack shop/bakery, teen center, and kids’ center (a “West Bank Development” could provide financial incentives)
- 2-level parking
- Bike paths
- Mini-golf and a full-sized basketball court (near the Imperial Avenue lot).
Those are great ideas. Some are easily doable; some would take work; a few are probably impractical. All, however, show a depth of understanding and sense of community not often associated with 8th graders.
Now let’s start working on the best ones.
How to begin?
Hire the Coleytown kids as consultants.