On Urban Planning

It’s been a long two semesters here at grad school, and I feel like I’ve aged a half-dozen years in the span of eight months. I’ve had a horde of information thrown at me that I’m still trying to understand and relate to the things that interest me, and it’s been a fight to stay interested in the subject matter (a fight that I’ve lost for a while and am trying to get going again). Unfortunately, grad school (at least in this field) seems to work on the principle of throwing huge heaps of information at us with little direction or advice given of how to understand the information or even how the municipal networks that operate the planning process work and letting the most ambitious among us or those with preexisting knowledge of planning pull ahead of the rest. Hell, finding profs who share my outlook and who can point me in the direction of interesting resources has also been extremely difficult. But what do I expect? I’m a frickin’ street artist.

It’s a poor means of education, and particularly so when it’s training future decision-makers.

Then again, we’re not just learning a trade as much as we’re learning to decipher a specialized language which we will eventually become masters and guardians of. Planners, just like lawyers, economists, doctors and a number of highly specialized professions, are members of what one could call an interpreter class.

I’m still trying to think about how approaches to public space design and city layouts can be changed and how to get ordinary people engaged and involved in civic decision-making. But it’s a complicated process compounded by a large volume of often confusing information. If it’s hard enough for me, an urban planning student, to understand the material I can only imagine how confusing it must be for layfolks.

Well, I am looking at examples of what other cities have done in terms of improved civic democracy (ie: participatory budgeting), how planning power was brought down from higher levels and how other cities have dealt with public space issues. I’m also trying to get myself a position with the UN as a planning intern in Haiti, where there is undoubtedly a need for urgent urban planning work.

The saga continues. I knwo this isn;t much of a streetarty update, but there’ll be more to come soon.


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