Make Your Very Own City!

Have you ever dreamed of designing a city? Well, there’s nothing to stop you – with some cardboard boxes, colored construction paper, markers, and glue, the sky’s the limit! In this activity, you will name, design, and build a three-dimensional model of an imaginary city.

Lessons: 5

Participants: 1 or more (this activity works best with small groups)
Ages: 7 and up

Materials: paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, glue, two or three dozen cardboard boxes (in assorted sizes, but not too big or too small), pipe cleaners, paper towel tubes, and a large piece of cardboard or butcher paper (six feet by six feet or larger – tape together several pieces of cardboard or butcher paper if necessary)

Lesson 1:

  1. Name your city. Decide upon a name that all participants will like, and one that will inspire creativity in designing your city (for example, Money City and Pizza Town).
  2. Brainstorm some street names that relate to the theme of your city name. For example, if your city is Pizza Town, choose street names like Pepperoni Lane and Cheese Street. If you want a river, lake, or other body of water in your city, name that, too.
  3. Brainstorm a list of the buildings that will be needed to make a successful town. Be sure to include buildings like the school, the library, restaurants, shops, the police station, the fire station, the bank, and apartment buildings and houses. Other buildings might include an ice cream shop, a candy store, a toy store, and an ice skating rink. Non-building spaces that you may wish to add to your city include parks, amusement parks, and gardens. This list is by no means inclusive; use your imagination to create a unique list of buildings for your city!
  4. Decide who will be responsible for designing and constructing each building. You may want to put the name of each building on a separate slip of paper, put the slips of paper into a bag, and have each person select one or more slips of paper until all the slips are taken.
  5. Individually, each participant should sketch and describe, in words and in a picture, the building or buildings that he or she is responsible for constructing.

Lesson 2:

  1. Take a walk around the downtown area of your town or city. Note the buildings that you see on your tour. Sketch a map of your downtown, and include the buildings on the map.
  2. Discuss what you see on your tour. What buildings are missing from your downtown? Which buildings are the most useful to your downtown? Are the buildings in the right place? Would some of the buildings be better off located in other places, either elsewhere in the downtown area, or out of the downtown area altogether?
  3. Discuss the street pattern. Are they too congested? Too wide or narrow?
  4. Discuss how what you saw today can help you to plan your city. Think about what buildings should be located next to one another in your city, and what sort of street pattern would be best for your city. Select someone in your group to record your observations.

Lesson 3:

  1. Begin to construct your buildings. Cover the cardboard boxes with colored construction paper, and decorate them with windows, doors, arches, pediments, building signs, etc. Use pipe cleaners or any other objects to complete the buildings. Remember – you are the architects of your city, so use your imaginations to create unique buildings.
  2. Review the building list to be sure that your city has all of the buildings that are required for a successful city.

Lesson 4:

  1. Finish constructing your buildings.
  2. Make – out of paper, cardboard tubes, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, etc. – any additional elements that you may with to include in your city, such as trees, flowers, cars, people, stop signs, etc.

Lesson 5:

  1. Build your city! Lay the cardboard or butcher paper on the floor. This is your “land.” If necessary, tape several sheets of cardboard or butcher paper together to be sure that your land is big enough – aim for an area of about six feet by six feet.
  2. Draw in any rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water on the “land,” and color them blue. Write their names down on the cardboard or butcher paper.
  3. Draw in the streets, and name them. Think about how you want your downtown area to be. Do you want an open space at the city center? An intersection of two wide streets? A rotary? Do you want your streets to be linear and grid-like, or winding and curving? Will they curve around a river bend? Add in a railroad line, if your city will have one. (Consider how it might be more difficult to add in a railroad line after the buildings have been constructed on the land than before.) If there is a river, be sure to include a bridge or two (or more) over it to connect the streets on either side.
  4. Begin to place your buildings on the land. Discuss which buildings should be located in the center of the city, which buildings should be located at the city’s edges, which buildings should be located next to one another, etc. 5. Think like urban planners. Move buildings around if you want. Create a discussion in which all participants voice their opinions. Urban planners work together, and you should too. By working together, you will arrive at the best solution.
  5. As you determine your building locations, decide where your open green spaces will be, and set them aside for parks and gardens. Color them green, adding flowers and paths as you like.
  6. Once you have determined where each building will go, affix the buildings to the cardboard or butcher paper. Add in any extras you may have made (such as trees, stop signs, people, cars, etc.), and be sure to make a sign for your city!
  7. Photograph your city. Get level with the model, and photograph it as if you were a person in the city. Photograph it from above, too, to get a bird’s-eye view.
  8. Show your city off to others! Please send us your photographs, as well as a description of your city, to We’d love to see your results, and publish them here on our website.