Y-PLAN Policy Brief Featured at Urban America Forward Civil Rights Roundtable

Posted on by Deborah McKoy, Jessie Stewart
Y-PLAn Was recently featured at the Urban America Forward: Civil Rights Roundtable Series National Conference in Washington D.C. Deborah McKoy, Executive Director of CC+S, participated as part of the Healthy Communities panel, presenting the Following policy brief entitled "Planning Healthy, Vibrant Cities For and With Young People: The Power and Possibilities of Y-PLAN."


“Healthy City Planning” has the potential to challenge the status quo by creating far more integrated and equitable place-making policies and practices. This emerging framework leads planners and policymakers to “eliminate the deep and persistent inequities that plague cities” by returning urban planning to its roots in public health and social justice. Unfortunately, this important development in the field often leaves young people and their schools out of the discussion. In doing so, policymakers overlook an important part of the solution. The result is plans, policies, and unhealthy built environments that may discount the needs, insights, and potential of some of our cities’ most important constituents.

One response is to introduce impactful learning experiences into public school curriculum that effectively and authentically engage students in city planning, public health, and policymaking. Such a response invites children and youth to work alongside professional planners, health experts, and other adults in efforts to transform policy landscapes and built environments. Such a response would also boost efforts to build a “culture of health” (as envisioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) by adopting time-tested active learning strategies within K-12 school systems seeking to create authentic and relevant learning experiences for their students.

One best practice example based at the University of California, Berkeley, is Y-PLAN (Youth – Plan, Learn, Act, Now). While tackling real city planning issues from housing redevelopment and gentrification to park design and climate change action planning, each Y-PLAN project aims to create “trajectories of opportunity” for disadvantaged residents of target communities, especially young people. Such trajectories are the product of aligning and leveraging people, place-making, and policies in new and profound ways.

During the past decade, more than 12,000 young people across 11 cities from Brooklyn to Beijing have been invited to engage as legitimate participants in more than 100 city planning projects as a result of the Y-PLAN initiative. Throughout the Y-PLAN process, young people conduct community-action research and develop proposals directed at a real community problem. Each of these youth-driven projects aims to build healthier communities by creating collaborative partnerships between civic leaders and public school teachers while helping students fulfill core academic goals and graduation requirements, such as work-based learning, service learning, or serving as senior projects. In doing so, Y-PLAN serves as a catalyst to build students’ college, career, and community readiness, and creates more diverse, informed, and equitable citizen participation processes.

Y-PLAN follows a replicable five-step educational strategy:

  1. Getting started. Participants define the project question posed by a civic leader or community partner, develop essential relationships, and dig into critical questions of why conditions in a community are the way they are. Students begin by examining how place affects their personal identity and health, and the way critical community issues connect at the local, regional, and global levels.
  2. Making sense of the city: Community mapping and analysis. Students begin to examine the core Y-PLAN principle of “people and place”, or the combination of social and physical investments that creates healthy communities.
  3. Into action: Charrette brainstorm and professional development. Students move from research to analysis and “ideation” as they examine research findings to design evidence-based proposals for change. Students engage with the core Y-PLAN principles of connectivity and eyes on the street—analyzing the way elements of the physical and built environment, such as buildings, transportation, and public space, can create vibrant, attractive, safe, equitable, welcoming, and active places for everyone.
  4. Going public: Public presentations to peers, client partners, and civic leaders. One of the core elements of Y-PLAN is opening traditional avenues of power to young people to communicate their ideas to decision-makers at City Hall or other authentic policymaking venues.
  5. Looking forward, looking back: Reflection and action planning. Linking critical reflection to action is core to Y-PLAN. In this final step, students engage with the question, “What’s next?” as they create plans for follow-up and follow-through and think about their capacity as future community leaders and contributors.

Examples of Y-PLAN initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area have been documented in a range of publications, including, Trajectories of Opportunity for Young Men and Boys of Color: Built Environment and Place-making Strategies for Creating Equitable, Healthy, and Sustainable Communities, and more recently in Engaging Students in Transforming Their Built Environment via Y-PLAN: Lessons from Richmond, California.  Together, these and other references document how young people experience the connection between place characteristics and life outcomes, and demonstrate how they can serve as critical actors through partnership-based redevelopment efforts.

Grounded in more than a decade of research, Y-PLAN’s five-step solution-oriented method demonstrates a “double bottom line” of positive outcomes for students and communities. Students demonstrate college, career, and community readiness in five areas: critical thinking, communication, creativity and innovation, collaboration, and community contribution. Similarly, adult allies and civic partners deepen their knowledge and ability in planning and place-making in three areas:

  • Participation: adults reveal changes in attitudes and perceptions of young people as legitimate community contributors;
  • Planning process: Y-PLAN serves as a catalyst for increasingly diverse community engagement, cross-sector collaboration, and increased trust between traditionally disenfranchised or marginalized communities and civic institutions; and
  • Policy: Y-PLAN’s “simple yet powerful” insight results in improvements in the built environment.

Moving Forward, City Planning Should...

Engage young people of all ages in the critical questions, policies, and practices intended to build healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities for them but not with them, both within and outside the K-12 education system.

Deepen the systemwide alignment between city planning, public health, and education sectors through shared strategies within and outside K-12 education systems, through civic work-based learning models such as Y-PLAN.

Remove barriers to cross-sector collaboration between cities, schools, and public health sectors by developing capacity among adults and policymakers to listen to, engage with, and act on the ideas and visions of young people for building healthy communities.

Cultivate cross-sector dialog and policy platforms among health, education, and urban planning fields to identify opportunities for collaborative solutions that bring young people’s needs and interests to the center of decision-making.

Strategies that meaningfully engage children and youth in city planning can serve as a catalyst for the kind of “micro-movements” that give rise to and support a culture of health that no longer sees young people and their unique perspectives as a persistent part of the problem, but as innovative contributors to equitable and sustainable solutions.


Deborah McKoy is the executive director and founder of CC+S.

Jessie Stewart is the former National Y-PLAN director and research specialist at CC+S.