Re-Imagining Westport, 8th-Grade Style

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.

Downtown Westport has gotten a bit grungy lately.

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.

The boardwalk by the Saugatuck River is nice. But when was the last time you used it?

15 responses to “Re-Imagining Westport, 8th-Grade Style

  1. Siobhan Crise

    Where is the boardwalk? I’ve never heard of it before.
    And well done to the imaginative kids.

  2. Siobhan Crise

    Thanks! Now to find out where Oscar’s is……

    • Well, you know where Main Street is, right? Turn onto it from the Post Road. A bit past Westport Pizzeria — which you have to know, if you don’t yet — you’ll see Oscar’s on the left. It’s a deli/breakfast/lunch place. You can walk through all the way to Parker Harding, or take a left just past Talbots (formerly Remarkable Book Store) into the parking lot. You’ll see the river on your right — lots of water. Enjoy!

  3. Siobhan Crise

    I really must get out more! Thanks.
    (Great book on Staples BTW).

  4. Lots of great ideas:

    Other ideas might include:
    No cars at all on Main Street from Westport Pizza to Post road.
    Restaurants with outdoor seating.
    An Ice Cream Parlor ice cream parlor.

    • And if you serve “free” ice cream you will bring people back to downtown. Imagine!!

  5. Brilliant!! I just hope everyone at the meeting was as impressed and
    will consider these wonderful ideas!

  6. Kudos to you great young thinkers and doers!!

    The ideas are wonderful; I can only imagine how exciting it was to see the presentation these great minds put together. I really hope for the sake of the children, that at least one of their ideas will be put into place. They have to see that their ideas and hard work can have results and make an impact.

    What’s the next step to seeing these ideas come to fruition?

  7. The Dude Abides

    Absolutely, some great ideas. I can see a River Walk down by the water instead of the back end of a parking lot.

    • To make the exercise more realistic, the students should have been asked to agree on going forward with only one project, and then asked how much they were willing to pay to see it come to fruition.

      • The Dude Abides

        The reality of the almighty buck is not taught to 10th grade or in many cases, much later. Give the kids a break. Good ideas.

        • Maybe the lesson of making choices and the free lunch should be brought home sooner.

          • The Dude Abides

            It was with our generation. Mowing an acre of lawn for 3 bucks at the age of 12 and taught to save it or invest it. That day is gone. Now you put a little plastic card in a machine and out pops green backs.

  8. Kathie Bennewitz

    This was a great civic, real-life project and, as CMS parents, we can say that these eight graders kids really do care about downtown Westport!