Editor’s Note: Our very own SDAPA member Ben Martinez wrote two articles on the BEEP Program that were recently featured in the National APA blog. The two articles that Ben authored are shown below. For the blog articles, which feature the pictures that Ben took, see the links at the end of this article.


Part 1: Enlightening Students Through the Built Environment: Active Transportation

The Built Environment Education Program (BEEP) San Diego is a nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to educating and advocating for school-age youth as meaningful participants, leaders, and decision makers of the built environment.

Through its curriculum and program structure, BEEP San Diego seeks to educate and engage youth on all aspects of the built environment. Read on to learn more about weekly lessons practiced at one of our partner schools, the Language Academy in the San Diego Unified School District.

Our core values and beliefs are intertwined in every lesson we deliver.

Among these is the Active Transportation component, which I taught with Lisa Lind, AICP. This component is a three-part series in which we focus on Elements of a Walkable Community, Active Transportation, and Advocacy and Safe Routes to School. The lessons are bundled into presentations and activities that allow students to gain a better understanding of the built environment and inspire changes in their behavior and community.

Lesson one focused on basic key terms like walkability and active transportation. We taught concepts using examples from the children’s homes and school environment. For example, in one of our activities we provide areal maps of the school and its vicinity. Using the concepts we exchanged, we opened the course up to discussion and allowed the 6th and 7th graders to visually express their ideas about their built environment, how it could be improved, and changes they had seen over time. This allowed the lesson to segue from understanding concepts of the built environment to advocacy and possible solutions.

Lesson two continued with active transportation concepts and how unsightly or unsafe streets could be improved to encourage pedestrian safety and activities. We allowed students to think of ideas for crosswalk designs, median implementation, and other complete streets concepts. The children were then encouraged to draw their neighborhood along with the concepts they experience or would like to experience to improve their neighborhood’s livability.

Once the connection between their home and school environment was established, we moved onto Safe Routes to School.

Because of the popularity of the language immersion concept of the Language Academy, the campus draws students from all parts of the greater San Diego region. Instead of focusing solely on home-to-school trips, we provided education on safety measures and evaluation for determining walkable or rideable commutes to parks or areas of interest. We encouraged students to be aware of the concepts they had learned in their quest to determine whether a street or route is safe to walk or ride in. Students discussed combating safety issues, graffiti, and deteriorating infrastructure, and they exchanged ideas for social and modal changes.

Conversely, the students taught me that they have an innate sense of their surroundings and a sense of ownership of their community that they previously did not know how to express.

I believe that the students gained a greater appreciation for the cultural and physical diversity of their communities and a greater understanding of planning, engineering, and architecture as they relate to the built environment.

Part 2: Enlightening Students through the Built Environment: Architecture as Geometry

Architecture as Geometry is arguably the most popular lesson in the BEEP Lesson Manual. It is a multi-week hands-on experience in which students learn about iconic figures and historical designs. This year, the lesson was taught at the Language Academy by BEEP volunteer architect Drew Razon, and I assisted. A focal point of this lesson was a presentation highlighting Buckminster Fuller’s contributions to modern architecture and design. This lesson included exercises using two of Fuller’s most notable concepts: the Dymaxion Map and the Geodesic Dome.

Through the use of the Dymaxion Map, students learned concepts behind 2D and 3D geometric shapes as they relate to architecture. The students then identified shapes in local architecture examples, such as the San Diego Convention Center and the San Diego Central Library.

The most challenging exercise for both volunteers and students  was the construction of life size Geodesic Domes. The Geodesic Domes were built by rolling newspaper on dowels into tubes  of specific lengths. The tubes  were then connected to form the Geodesic dome by using round-head paper fasteners. Via their hands-on experience, the students learned about the structural integrity of the domes.

The following segment focused on core architectural concepts such as perspective drawings, floor plans, elevations, and sections. This exercise was performed using halved bell peppers as stamps, which provided a basis for further filling in of floor plans and elevation markers. This allowed the students to think critically about the effort that goes into constructing the built environment and learn about the diversity of the professions that make our communities what they are.

Over the course of the semester, many of the students began to participate by associating the topics we covered with their daily experiences. They confided issues ranging from the lack of adequate housing affecting their families to access to transportation and their adventures using transit.

My initial goal was to expose a group of curious students to the built environment through the planning and architecture fields, but as time went on, I found that the students had become the teachers. They provided perspectives that only they as children could think of and imaginative solutions to resolve them.

Ultimately, I believe this course empowered the students to care about their communities and had a profound effect on the way they think about their environment.

About the Author

Benjamin Martinez is an APA Member and BEEP San Diego volunteer. Contact him at martinezben88@gmail.com.