Urban Educations: K-12 in the Downtown Core

The population living in many downtown cores has skyrocketed in the last couple decades, but it’s only recently that we have seen a large uptick in the number of families living downtown. Because of this, many downtowns are now facing a shortage of schools for all the new children at the heart of urban living. In Vancouver, there has been a 134 per cent increase in the number of children living in Vancouver’s downtown neighbourhoods from 2001 to 2011, according to UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster. To accommodate some of this growth, the Vancouver School Board recently completed work on it’s first new downtown school in more than 10 years, Crosstown Elementary.

How do we design K-12 schools in an urban core?

School boards are unlikely to hold, or be able to purchase, parcels of land in pricey urban neighbourhoods. The site of Crosstown is an existing underground parkade; they have no sole ownership of the land itself, only the rights to build the project above it. School boards and architects must find solutions that integrate schools with higher density projects. This could take many forms, either on under-utilized land (like that above a parkade), or integrated into a high-rise tower as a vertical school, like Toronto has recently considered.

Recreation space also needs to be rethought. Sprawling fields are not a viable option in a high-density neighbourhood. The Crosstown project moved it’s recreation space to the roof, while recess occurs across the street at a public park. Planning schools to integrate with existing public parks and plazas allows for better utilization of existing spaces.

Experimenting with the design of classrooms is also key to building downtown schools within different spaces. A project manager with the Vancouver School Board described the process of an urban school as “going to be all about flexibility … one of the hard things, to think about how to create a community going up, not going out.” What other innovations in school design will arise from this growing need for downtown classrooms?


Photo by Yannik Wenk on Unsplash

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