Sidewalks to Skylines: Empowering the Next Generation of Community Planners—A Student Engagement Toolkit

By: Rex LaMore, Director, Center for Community and Economic Development

Planning is defined as “the process by which we attempt to shape the future”1 (Brooks, 2013). Public planning professionals in democratic societies help communities work towards a shared vision of what they want to become. By working with public and private sector leaders, planners can help a community anticipate the future, facilitate needed infrastructure, use limited public resources wisely, manage land use is such a way as to maximize property values, protect the health, welfare, and safety of a place, and much more. Fundamentally, planning is about the future and insuring that the decisions that we make today result in the kinds of communities we and our progeny would like to live, work, and play in. In this context, engaging young people not only in the process of community planning today but encouraging them to consider the profession of planning as a career is critically important to the success of the profession and our communities.

To that end, the MSU Center for Community Economic Development, in partnership with the Michigan Association of Planning Social Justice and Equity Committee, the Michigan State University Multicultural Apprenticeship Program, and the MSU Museum, developed a planner’s toolkit to facilitate connecting with young people on local planning issues and the profession of planning. This toolkit is designed to serve as a tool that planners can use to engage with high school and middle school students about planning as a profession. It outlines an easy to follow process designed to introduce students to planning and provide young people with the opportunity to give feedback to professional planners on local planning issues they have identified.

The toolkit has five specific learning outcomes:

  1. Expose students to planning as a career, specifically land use planning
  2. Expose students to different elements of planning (processes, products, and skills)
  3. Connect students to local and regional planners and explore planning as a profession
  4. Identify planning issues in communities
  5. Collect student generated images of “planning” across Michigan communities

The toolkit will take planners through a step-by-step process articulating how to achieve these learning outcomes. By exposing young students to planning, we hope to raise awareness of planning as a profession and attract prospective planners to any of Michigan’s accredited planning programs.

If you would like to use or learn more about this toolkit, visit the CCED website at


  1. Brooks, M. (2013). Planning theory for practitioners. Lanham, MD: American Planning Association.

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