Preservation and LEGOs Empower Children to Envision the City’s FutureJun 7, 2021
Each summer, she asks her campers, some of whom are homeless or have incarcerated parents, to recall a memory of a place or family member. Casteel herself remembers sitting on a neighbor’s porch swing as a child, raptly listening to stories of her grandparents. Using the city as a story-telling canvas, kids in her three-week summer camps are encouraged to walk, draw, experience, and imagine the history around them. As they traverse city blocks, Casteel prompts the children to notice signs, changes in building materials, and to guess when buildings were built. Following Discover Denver’s historic building research model, Casteel’s young city planners head to DPL’s Western History & Genealogy floor where they look at Sanborn Maps, newspaper articles, photos, and other records to unearth a building’s layered history. “With the city’s tremendous growth, this helps them see why we need to save pockets of history,” Casteel explains.
Building Community Block by Block is another of Casteel’s signature youth programs. Here teams of kids apply Denver’s Main Street zoning code to construct city blocks out of Legos. Assuming the roles of developers, community organizers, and planners, they are tasked with creating environments where they want to live while considering the impact of open space, transportation, and buildings to be saved from demolition. Casteel finds that Legos make it easy for children (and adults) to visualize while bringing a certain universal joy to imagining placemaking. And this real act of envisioning a great city through a child’s perspective may hold the key to the city’s future. Past campers often show up on Casteel’s doorstep to share successes, including one young woman who started her own Atlanta, GA non-profit, another developing housing for seniors in Dallas, TX, and a third realizing his dream of being a chef in his hometown of Denver, CO. Through her programs, Casteel engages her campers, encouraging them in community building and collaboration—and in seeing themselves as part of the future they are building.