Virtual Chinatown reflects students’ vision for age-friendly community

As our population continues to age, many wonder what an age-friendly community will look like.

Iolani School elementary students were asked, “How would you make Chinatown a more age-friendly livable community?”

Their ideas are fresh, innovative, thoughtful, and caring.

“(We) decided to make a mall to help the elderly with cheaper food and places to sit, a place where they can feel secure,” said fourth-grader Freddy Kamaka.

“I made it all out of glass, so like at night, if they come out at night, then they can watch the fireworks,” said fifth-grader Tria Boland.

The students designed their own virtual Chinatown in Minecraft, where users create their own worlds and experiences using building blocks.

“Really it was about getting the kids out there to Chinatown to talk to the kupuna to see what it was all about, and then using Minecraft as a tool they’re familiar with, sharing their ideas,” explained teacher Gabe Yanagihara.

“When I go to this park and around Chinatown, like even though there’s a homeless shelter there, there’s still a lot of people (who are) homeless and don’t have a roof over their head, so that’s why I decided to make this homeless shelter,” said fourth-grader Zuri Kaplan.

The project is part of the Age-Friendly Honolulu project. The video was funded by a Community Challenge grant through AARP’s Livable Communities initiative.

“This is truly innovative. It uses technology and it helps you see the world through a lens of an age-friendly Honolulu,” said AARP Hawaii director Barbara Kim Stanton. “The exciting thing is these are young people and they are looking into the future.”

The 360-degree virtual reality experience will be part of an interactive exhibit at the Children and Youth Day at the Hawaii State Capitol on Oct. 1.

“When they actually had to build it and create it, they really had to put shape to their ideas, and their ideas became more realistic and they became much more easier to communicate to other people,” Yanagihara said.

“Never underestimate what a child can do,” Stanton said.

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