What if children designed our Ontario neighbourhoods?

Getting students engaged in transit today, opens the door to them using – and shaping – public systems as they get older.

If you want to glimpse the future of public transit in Ontario, first see it through the eyes – and coloured pencils – of children.

Metrolinx runs countless public meetings and educational sessions each year. Constant consultation and conversations with community members are part of our DNA.

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One of the most important and enjoyable outreach events our four Light Rail Transit (LRT) teams undertake as part of our community benefits program is interactive presentations to local schools. The Transit in your Community program creates valuable moments spent educating the next generation of transit users, as well as engaging early with those future developers, planners, business leaders, voters, taxpayers, influencers, social activists and Metrolinx leaders. Our LRT teams have successfully connected with more than 2,300 students since winter 2017.

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Transit In Yours Community by the numbers. 40 schools. 62 presentations. 2300 students and counting across the GTHA.

Metrolinx LRT projects underway across the Greater Golden Horseshoe region will dramatically impact the local communities. Therefore our community relations staff have been running these sessions to meet with the kids who will one day soon use the LRT systems, to ask them a question they’ve likely never been asked before: what would be included in your dream neighbourhood?

And while there are times when free ice cream shops and roaming zoo animals may be coloured into those kid visions, they also come with insightful renderings that include bright ideas and telling additions.

Here are some key takeaways and some regional background on the Transit in Your Community program, and why your kids may be coming home talking ‘transit’.

Crosstown LRT

Children form a circle inside a school gym, to play transit related games.

Each Metrolinx LRT team has led several transit presentations to schools across their regions. In 2017, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT team connected with students from the Toronto District School Board across multiple schools. During presentations, students dive into several ongoing Metrolinx projects and learn the importance of transportation and the positive effect it has on the community.

Hamilton LRT

A child's drawing shows buildings and where transit interacts with streets. There are trees and a basketball court as well.

The Hamilton LRT team launched their transit presentations in spring 2018. Discussion often centers around the impact of urban design, accessibility and the importance of connecting communities. The interactive group activity, where students are encouraged to discuss and design their dream neighbourhoods, allows students to showcase their potential and creativity to plan a community based on what’s important to them. In many cases students make sure their plans include necessary community services – including fire departments, pet adoption centres, homeless shelters, and of course, accessible transit.

Hurontario LRT

Children's hands are seen working on a poster of transit in a community.

These school visits have led to some wonderful classroom moments. Muhammed, a student at Sherwood Mills public school in Mississauga, told us: “I want my dream neighbourhood to be just like this city, where I can go to mosque with my family and my friend can go to church with his.” The outreach has provided our team members with the gentle honesty that children are so capable of expressing. These neighbourhood designs reflect the diversity of students’ daily lives. Their perceptions of their community provide snapshots of their experiences.

Finch West LRT

A gym is filled with students listening to a presenter, who stands up front with a screen.

The Finch West LRT team kicked off their youth engagement in May 2018 with the annual Walk of Excellence, where they were part of the celebrations of graduating high school students in the Finch West Community. This past January 2019, the team presented to grade 8 students at Brookview Middle School, where students learned about the importance of public transit, transportation planning, as well as transit-related trade, career and apprentice opportunities. The students also enjoyed a spoken word video by Wali Shah, curated for the project called “A Region United.” “‘Transit in Your Community’ has a positive impact and has been well received by elementary and secondary students and their teachers across school boards,” said Judy Brooks, Metrolinx Community Benefits specialist. Brooks, who was instrumental in building the program, said, “Teachers and students have embraced these real world examples of how governments work together to the LRT project.”

Kids love trains but they’re also going to be able to tell their kids and grandchildren about how transit connected them to the great potential that comes with travel.

Story by Madeha Khalid, Metrolinx community relations and issues specialist.