The disease of urban planning; and plans

The Art of Up!

Now that summer has started, it’s time to reflect;

Over the semester, I’ve been dependent on this concept that I should focus on one thing and be very good at it. I’ve found that, this concept this doesn’t necessarily work out for me.

For example, I am an urban planning undergraduate. However, I have interests that span all over the place: I enjoy Chinese and Korean language, food, music, and culture. I read about urban design and transportation planning; I have a general concern with Asian urban development and sustainable cities. I am developing a strong interest in animation and art. If there was an emphasis, that I have strong interest in, it would be participatory urban design, using the most important visuals to tell a story and engage people in the urban planning process.

I want to try to merge these interest together, to get to the participatory urban planning/design process, but how?

Part of the reason why I’ve hesitated among an internship or grad school is, because I’ve been spending months reflecting on how to get to that process. Now, I have some thoughts to conclude:

I will be postponing my entry into graduate school: I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned in my classes, as well as my interactions with people, is that in order to plan better cities or involve people in the participatory urban planning process, I actually need to live in these situations before I start planning cities. Because I did grew up in a sheltered environment, I did not have this opportunity, and I would like to use this break between undergrad and grad school to pursue it. How long this will take, I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t have a deadline for this.

Let’s make urban planning more creative, artistic, and culturally relevant to society: I believe urban planning suffers from a policy, technocratic, bureaucratic image. This image makes it really difficult for most people outside the profession (or users of the city) to understand what we actually do, or what policies/plans we are trying to implement into society that could affect everybody living in the region.

For example, if I were to say: my emphasis in urban planning is in the “nexus between urban design and transportation planning, with a focus on Chinese cities and urban development”, most people have no idea what that exactly entails.

So yes, it is strange that I somehow walked into exploring animation (i.e. Pixar). What Pixar is very successful at doing is telling stories that people can relate to through the medium (animation) it works with. How come planning can’t create the same impact that animation can do? 

For example, audiences can relate to Up because the writers were able to craft themes that people can relate to. Loss of innocence of youth, letting go of the past and living in the present, and never, ever losing your imagination. Adults especially work hard, and let those pressures destroy that imagination that makes them who they are. These are human emotions and conditions that we seek to solve.

You see, planning reduces these emotions with terminologies, political and technical processes that people don’t easily understand.

I seek to figure out: how can we make urban planning culturally, artistically, relevant such that people value what we do, but at the same time, realize it’s potential? Thus, these next few years are devoted to finding this medium.

Meet, meet, meet, meet, people: This is very important, as I cannot pursue this process alone. From an article about what makes students the most happy, the key isn’t social status or wealth, but our connections with people.

Yay: I want to work/live/study in East Asia (China or Korea!) for a few years: This senior year will be the process of planning how to get to that point. More on this later. I want to find, be inspired, and take back the art/culture in Asia for a few years before going back into planning, and make it even better.

In conclusion, let’s understand people and their culture before we plan anything, and make the process of understanding/participating more engaging and exciting, more empathetic.

To close this, I watched a video by asiasociety on creativity in China. Normally, people associate Chinese goods as cheap, easy-to-break, copycat, but there is a small grass-roots movement trying to defy that.

 Simply put, just as China is going through a creative process, it’s all a matter of image and value that we have to place in planning in order to make it better.

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One Response to The disease of urban planning; and plans

  1. Pingback: Can we bring Pixar’s Magic into sustainable Chinese urban development? | Francis Chen

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