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BOYLE HEIGHTS : A Model Lesson in City Planning

March 13, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Like countless city planners before them, third- and fourth-grade students at Utah Street Elementary School have been trying to fit everything they want into the three-dimensional city that takes up a corner of their classroom.

They have decided they do not want guns, drugs, pollution, gangs, trash or alcohol. But they do want enough homes for everyone. And the biggest dilemma of all is where to put Disneyland.

The students are working on an "instant city" that sits on a topographical replica of Central Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles River and the hills of Boyle Heights to the east and the steep Bunker Hill to the west. The city has been cut into jigsaw pieces, with each student owning a parcel to build housing, streets, parks and office buildings.

The project started shortly after Christmas break with a $10,000 grant from Catellus Development, which is developing 50 acres near Union Station. With the grant, husband-and-wife instructors Stephen and Velora Brown, who teach a combined third- and fourth-grade class, have bought books on architecture and will continue the project for two years.

"We're trying to set up a micro-society," Stephen Brown said. "We have a model in a physical sense, and we're trying to set up a society in the other senses too."

Buttons tacked into the green-painted plastic foam grass have become flowers, Ping-Pong balls on sticks are street lights, and recycled cereal boxes serve as houses and hotels.

The students are in the process of building enough housing for 10,000 people, or 160 residents for each parcel. Streets made of cardboard have cars tacked onto them made from the same material. Many of the children built churches. One included a zoo.

Erica Garcia, 8, created a red-and-white rainbow out of twisted pipe cleaners and arched it over her plot. Her friend Paloma Robles, 9, has a freeway running through her plot and has planted button flowers throughout.

And Adan Anguiano, 8, made a hotel for 200 people out of an empty Frosted Flakes box. "There's people in here, not corn flakes," he explained to a visitor.

His friend, Oscar Renteria, 9, who designed his plot with a movie set in mind, accused him of overcrowding the hotel, but Adan insisted that the building offered plenty of room.

The students had elections Friday to choose a mayor, librarian, banker, school board, recreation leader and others to help run their city and classroom more smoothly. They are learning about what government is supposed to do and how it is supposed to work.

Later, they will decide where their residents will work, whether there will be an industrial zone and where it will go. They must figure out other factors that go into running a city and improving the lives of its people.

"They own property, pay for their property, do banking," Brown said. "I really feel that they will be more sophisticated about what goes on in the world."

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