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Giving a voice to youth in urban planning with Survey123 and ArcGIS Online

“Children should be seen and not heard” is an old English proverb dating back from the 15th century and still in use today. This could not be more apparent than in the process of urban planning where children make up a large portion of a city’s population yet have very little input in its design. Find out how the Maximum City program, a University of Toronto Schools Experience Innovation summer camp has integrated ArcGIS Online and Survey123 in their programming to address the YouthScore metric to engage youth in urban planning.

Last month, my colleague Haydn Lawrence had the opportunity to present to a group of students from grades 5 to 11, including visiting students from Beijing that were enrolled in Maximum City, an award-winning program at the University of Toronto Schools Experience Innovation summer camps in Toronto, Ontario. The program engages students in a range of hands-on activities, covering topics such as architecture, design, the environment, technology, the arts, civic engagement and mobility. Students participate in a design challenge in which they collaborate on a real-life urban environment problem and present their solutions to a panel of professionals.

At the session Esri Canada had an invitation, Haydn spoke about ArcGIS Online and Survey123, an online survey tool that was used by the students to assess downtown Toronto’s YouthScore — a metric to evaluate streets, places and neighbourhoods based on their youth friendliness.

Some neighbourhoods are very youth friendly while others can be improved.

Topics presented included the importance of survey design and question formation. Several hands-on activities were done throughout the session both in question formulation and the removal of bias. The students were then shown how to create surveys in Survey123, garnering many questions about structure and output. The overall process of survey creation was presented with input from the senior students. One student even asked what a likert scale was and why it should be used! With the use of this knowledge, they went out and looked at Toronto from their own perspectives. The students’ survey was used to collect data by incorporating over 80 questions that were created in advance of the workshop.

Students enrolled in the Maximum City program assessing the urban landscape in Toronto.

Overall, the students were very interested in urban design and the idea of having a voice – creating solutions to real-life problems and then presenting these solutions to a panel of experts and decision-makers. Using the survey, they shared their opinions with YouthScore; the findings were later presented in an ArcGIS Online web map created with help from Haydn.  

The students presented to a group of professionals that included:

  • Maximilien Longuet (Constituency Assistant, Toronto City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon)
  • Rebecca Keenan (Senior Manager of Human Resources, Facilities & Administration, Scadding Court Community Centre)
  • Craig Cal (Urban Planner)
  • Judy Farvolden (University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute)
  • Kim Storey (Architect)
  • Tori Prouse (City of Toronto Transportation Services)

The students shared ideas on a food court in Grange Park, increasing bike lanes, creating sheds containing chalk for children to use, designating a graffiti alley and adding healthy amenities to neighbourhoods (e.g. streetlights, tress, water fountains, benches and places for play like swings or ping pong tables). The groups of students went about a systematic approach to raising the YouthScore in neighbourhoods through these ideas.

The senior students took these ideas much farther, looking at themes of empathy, equity, sustainability, youth-friendliness, urban intensification, mixed-use development and community consultation. They recommended increased bicycle infrastructure (incl. contra-flow bike lanes & physically-separated cycle tracks), improved seating & gathering spaces, improved garbage & recycling, wider sidewalks, reduced noise pollution, encouraged affordable commerce, added green space, legislation limiting smoking in public spaces, grass between streetcar tracks and the installation of rubber guards in streetcar tracks to prevent bicycle accidents.

Results of the survey presented on a web map in ArcGIS Online.

Josh Fullan, the Director and Founder of Maximum City, looks forward to working with Esri Canada again, as he believes "Esri software has proven to be a powerful tool for amplifying learning and capturing data as part of the YouthScore. Using ArcGIS Online and Survey123, youth are able to understand the data they collect more deeply and are able to represent it spatially and graphically in compelling ways for their peers and expert audiences."

Engaging students can be a difficult task at times. By using interactive tools like web maps and apps, educators can provide relevant and hands-on learning opportunities like the YouthScore study. Check out some resources below to get started with ArcGIS Online and Survey123 this fall:

We would like to hear from educators who want to share their stories of using ArcGIS in their teaching. We may highlight you in an upcoming blog post! Contact us at

Thank you to Esri Canada’s Higher Education Developer/Analyst, Haydn Lawrence, for his contribution to this blog post. 

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander