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St. Ray’s urban planning

Bronx Times

Out of a local Catholic school, a metropolis will grow.

Since last month, the senior economics class at St. Raymond’s High School for Boys in Parkchester has transformed from a classroom into a bustling boardroom where students are learning how to lay out a city.

It’s all part of a three-week study program called UrbanPlan. St. Raymond’s is the only Bronx school to teach the course, aimed at informing students the necessary elements that make a thriving city.

The economics class is broken up into groups. Walking the room, teacher Oliver Antigua challenged students to think outside the box when building their communities.

“When you put a building some place ask yourself how’s that going to impact the neighborhood that is in?” asked Antigua. “Your job is to say ‘how does it look next to all the buildings, how’s traffic going to be affected?”

Questions like whether a homeless shelter should go near a retail space were asked at the Wednesday, April 25 class.

The teams are made up of several roles including a neighborhood liaison, city liaison, financial analyst, site planner, and marketing director who all participated in working out the details of their city.

“Their goal is to make a profit,” said Antigua. “Each decision has a financial cost to the plan.”

With the help of a large map, mock budget and a set of Lego blocks, students were told to ensure “everyone is happy.”

It was also working with Lego’s that kept the students attention.

“It’s like being a kid again,” said site planner Tavon Williams.

Along with being a kid again was thinking like an adult. Classmates bounced ideas off each other, weighing the logic behind a member’s decision much like developers finalizing the plans of a new building.

The heart of the course, according to Antigua, laid in teaching students the fundamentals of teamwork, problem-solving, and economics and government.

“It crosses a lot of curriculums,” said Antigua.

The course comes at an interesting time in the Bronx where several neighborhoods are seeing major development.

“It’s not that easy to just start a building or demolish it,” said Nkereuwem Okoro of Baychester. “I see it as a process.”

UrbanPlan was conceived by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute that teaches students how to use space responsibly. Since 2002, the program has taught thousands of people in 12 states.

St. Raymond’s students have just one more week to prepare for the big presentation before several real estate executives serving as New York City Council members. They will be judged by their oral skills and city presentation.

Okoro, an all-star basketball player, is treating the presentation like competition. “I really don’t want to look stupid in front of City Council,” said Okoro.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or email dcruz@cnglocal.com.

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