My Desire To Study Urban Planning

My mother is Chinese and my father is American. Very early on, I became attuned to the distinct cultural ideologies of their homelands. Yet despite the salient characteristics that make both countries unique, the outcome of displacement and segregation is similar. In Beijing, the megacity of my childhood, a population spike precipitated by haphazard urbanization has resulted in gaping inequality and severe environmental degradation. Under the guise of urban improvement, discriminatory policies exacted at vulnerable migrant populations have cut off thousands from family and access to resources. Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, I’ve witnessed the legacy of an epochal tech boom drive, low-income families, into neighborhoods where poverty and racial segregation are on the rise.

My pursuit in the study of urban planning stems from a desire to better understand the complex drivers of spatial inequality so I may develop a sensitive approach to planning equitable, and inclusive communities across geographical divides. If I’m accepted, I intend to concentrate in Housing, Community, and Economic Development. Urbanization and all that comes with it – economic opportunity, social turmoil, environmental upheaval – is rapidly extending to every part of the world. By the same token, urban inequality is increasingly on the rise. I want to practice in a method of planning that prioritizes a consideration for historically poor, marginalized, and disinvested communities within the built environment. The multifarious pressures imposed upon vulnerable urban residents today, from climate risk to shortages in affordable housing, require multidisciplinary and collaborative solutions to planning offered by HCED’s curriculum.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I explored how disparate social, political, ideological, and economic forces dictate urban form. My interest in regional planning is shaped by a desire to learn about these dimensionalities of urban space. Under the guidance of Professor Matthias Pabsch, I studied the dichotomous post-war development processes in Germany imposed by Communist and Capitalist regimes. The challenges of merging two states with vastly different political and economic systems provided a unique foray into examining the complexities of planning and urban governance. My research exposed me to the implications of decentralized and centralized policies with respects to planning, institutional arrangements of social policy and the welfare state, and policies of urban restitution.

The breadth of research conducted at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development affords me the opportunity to understand patterns and institutional factors of urbanization so I can inform solutions to urban problems that evolve in tandem with cities. I am particularly interested in interdisciplinary approaches to development in the provision of spatial equity. As an intern at NYC’s Planning and Development division under the Community Parks Initiative, I analyzed park access and usership of historically under-resourced public parks that were profiled for capital investment. From this experience, I learned about mechanisms of park funding and maintenance, which provided a helpful lens to consider social, economic, and environmental equity in land use and development.

By soliciting input from local community volunteers and advocates from public-private partnerships, I was also introduced to models of grassroots park governance that offer marginalized psopulations the opportunity to actively participate in planning decisions. Participatory park planning, investments in social capital, and public-private partnerships serve as critical functions of engaging the public in a culture of urban stewardship, and are vital to establishing the kind of bottom-up governance necessary in the face of rapid urbanization. The research and praxis of Professor Jason Corburn, oriented towards building partnerships between urban residents, scientists, and decision-makers in order to generate policy and planning solutions that improve the well-being of poor and people of color, typifies the kind of planning practice I want to follow.

The appropriate application of digital technologies can enhance participatory planning by improving exchanges between urban planners and citizens. My work as a visual and UX designer has involved investigating behavioral patterns and communicating the myriad ways in which particular applications might solve pre-identified user needs. At Conde Nast, my responsibility was two-pronged – designing visually immersive reading experiences and accessible pathways to content, and architecting a proprietary open-source design component system to enable platform developers and create a shared understanding of how to build better design.

My interests outside of work have also inspired me to learn a few 3D visualization and modeling programs so I can effectively make design planning processes more transparent for involved stakeholders. The sum of my experiences has drawn me to the useful implications 3D visualization has for planning interventions in the built environment, as well as its role as a platform for participatory discourse. The new AR and Urban Analytics Labs both offer a vast variety of projects for me to explore the frontier of urban visualization. I am fascinated by how data and images can be leveraged make planning efforts more responsive to the needs and interests of populations on the margins of policy and development.

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