Jay Al-Abboudi often strolls through Barton Village.
But, until Wednesday, he didn't take in the "little details" of the area — the buzz of traffic, the flow of pedestrians, the distressed brick storefronts lining the street.
"There were a lot of nice-looking old buildings I hadn't noticed before," the 16-year-old said. "There's a lot of history here."
This week, Al-Abboudi and his Parkview Secondary classmates teamed up with CoBALT Connects — a local arts service organization — to explore Ottawa and Barton streets. The teens were asked to take in the sights, smells and sounds and then complete questionnaires about their impressions.
The hour-long exercises were part of Expressing Vibrancy, a year-long project aimed at identifying the unique characteristics that enhance the experience of living, working and playing in eight Hamilton neighbourhoods.
Since August, CoBALT has gathered feedback from about 150 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds across the city. That information — along with visual and biometric data about the neighbourhoods and people's experiences in them — will later be analyzed in McMaster University's LIVE Lab and used to develop an interactive tool to aid municipalities in cultural planning.
Project manager Karen Reiner said she reached out to Parkview and other local schools because student voices, though valuable, aren't always heard in the planning process.
"It's a very important voice," she said. "They're the ones that are going to see things come to fruition in 20 years."
"They were really, really honest," she added.
Other volunteers were recruited with the help of BIAs and local agencies, including the Immigrant Women's Centre, the Hamilton Council on Aging, Momstown and Smart Commute.
When Reiner approached Andrew Gocentas about taking part, the Parkview geography teacher leaped at the chance.
He said his students are learning about neighbourhoods and urban geography in class and this was "the perfect opportunity" to get them out from behind their desks.
"Get out and just tell me how you feel about a neighbourhood," he said. "What do you see? What do you smell?
"They'll tell it how it is and I think that's really admirable."
Gocentas and his students were also impressed to discover their input would be used in a project of such broad scale.
"We were really amazed that walking these streets and doing these surveys is going to result in this technology," he said. "It's really cool."