Design SharePlanning the Learning Community
An Interview with Concordia's Steven Bingler
By Randall Fielding

Steven BinglerSteven Bingler, AIA, is president of Concordia Inc., a research and planning firm, and Concordia Architects, an architectural design firm, both based in New Orleans. The firm has earned a reputation for innovation in the participatory planning process of educational environments. Steven is a consultant to the U.S. Department of Education for policy related to the design of schools as the center of the community. Concordia's approach has received coverage in the New York Times, The Wall street Journal, the Los Angles Times and Newsweek.

What tools do you use to facilitate the group process?
       We break 100 people [25 students, 25 parents, 25 educators and 25 community members] into 6 groups, each group with a different task. Then we cross-fertilize those groups. It's a huge discovery process, where the groups are discovering information in their community. That information comes in 6 categories: physical, cultural, social, economic, organizational and educational. The way we facilitate the process is to discover the information in each one of those categories, and then integrate all of that information together.
We have maps, field trips, what we call treasure hunts. We have a treasure card that we give people.  It's an 81/2 x 11 card labeled "Treasure Card" across the top; instructions are: "go out into the community and find a place that turns you on, that you can learn from; answer the questions, and take a camera with you, take a picture and put it on the Treasure Card."

View a Treasure CardCommunity Infrastructure

         In Stockton, CA, kids went out and came up with the fitness center. They came back and said, "how come grown-ups get fitness centers and we get jumping jacks? How come grown-ups get nutritionists and trainers, and we get phys. ed. teachers?" They invited the fitness center operator to come to the meetings. The fitness center operator said:
       "I'd love to build a fitness center in this neighborhood, but I can't afford the land."
       The school district said, "what if we gave you the land?"  And he said:
       "You give me the land and I'll build the building."
       The school district is going to get a free building, and more important, the kids are going to get what they want.
       In Western Placer, they went out on the treasure hunt, found a stream, and said: 
       "We could learn a lot from the stream," and "we would love it if somebody would give us more access to that stream. How about if we made a bicycle path that runs along the stream, and thatís how  we get to the school? Because grown-ups have cars and we have bicycles."
       They came up with the idea of a bicycle path along the stream, with little plaques at various stopping points that describe what's going on in the ecosystem. They imagined their school to be like a National Park that was integrated by the stream.

Community Planning Process
, August, 1999

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