In this kid-approved version of Baton Rouge, there’s a monorail and no traffic jams. There is a hospital with an entryway for fish only and castles. And kids are in charge of it all.
At the aptly named “Building Blocks: If Kids Ruled the City” program on Saturday, children donned yellow hardhats and transformed a room in the Capitol Park Museum downtown into a model city.
They used an array of supplies — burlap, paper, plastic tubing, foam, boxes — to create buildings, but their creativity didn’t stop there. The youngsters also had to think about the best locations to build and consider the needs of their neighbors.
Kathleen Gordon, executive director of the Baton Rouge chapter of American Institute of Architects and an event organizer, said Building Blocks, now in its fifth year, exposes children to the complicated art of planning and building cities.
It also gives them a chance to meet real architects and engineers, who helped with site selection and the installation of things like windows and doors.
“The kids begin to get an understanding in a fun and creative way about what goes into city planning and architecture and some of the decisions that adults make in creating a useful and valid and vibrant city,” Gordon said.
Children kept their parents and volunteers busy with orders to glue and cut supplies.
“I’m helping with a gym with a dance studio and balance beams — or so I’m told,” said Benjamin Champagne, a third-year LSU architecture student originally from Lafayette.
In charge of the project was 7-year-old Mya Parker, who said she decided to build a sports complex because she enjoys dance and track. The complex featured a swimming pool made from blue string, toilet paper roll trees and pipe cleaner athletes.
“More people can stay healthy and fit” in the model city, Mya said. Champagne was impressed with Mya’s planning skills — she didn’t forget to include a parking lot and stop signs.
“When I graduate, I’ll have to call Mya for work,” he joked.
Mya wants to become an architect when she grows up, her aunt Tiffany Temple said.
“She didn’t realize how long you have to go to school to become an architect,” Temple said. “This opens her mind to the creativity that it takes.”
When children first arrived at Building Blocks, volunteers asked them what they wanted to build. Someone suggested a jail.
“I was like, ‘Mya, don’t pick the jail,’ ” Temple said. “But you know, we need that in the city, too. I want my niece to grow up and be part of building a good city.”
The young builders also had to undergo inspections. Caleb Camara, 8, was adding pink pipe cleaner flowers around his model of the Louisiana state capitol when state Fire Marshal Butch Browning and Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden dropped by.
“Do you have emergency exits and fire alarms in that building?” Browning asked.
“When he asks you a question, just say yes,” Holden advised. But Caleb answered honestly, telling Browning he hadn’t worked on the inside yet. Browning explained that people must be able to get out of buildings safely if there is an emergency.
Caleb’s mother, Ashley Pugh, said the event provided children a “realistic idea of building things” and taught lessons of teamwork and leadership.
“He directed us, but he had to decide what looked good,” she said.
Caleb was detail-oriented — he used wooden paint stirrers to recreate the capitol’s front stairs and made a statue of Huey Long out of pipe cleaners.
Other children, like 4-year-old Hattie Knapp, were more imaginative. With help from St. Joseph’s Academy students Ella DiResto and Caroline Dunn, both 16, Hattie built a hospital that featured gauze and feather decorations, arms and an entryway for fish only.
“The hospital is for everyone — fish, humans, princesses, Spiderman,” DiResto said.
Heather Moret, whose 6-year-old son Benjamin was taping a granola bar box roof onto his building, said the event “gives them a route to show what’s in their imagination.”
“At first, there was this quiet hum of intense concentration,” Moret said. “It’s what they want, so they’re more motivated. You don’t see kids starting something and then bouncing away.”