Planning Students Put Theory Into Practice
By Cristy Lytal
The USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development (SPPD) gave new meaning to the words “travel planning” during the recent international planning studios in India and Argentina.
Led by Tridib Banerjee, SPPD professor and director of graduate programs in urban planning, the two studios gave students an opportunity to put theory into practice, collaborating to address real-world planning challenges in international settings.
“The aim of the international planning studios is to give the students an experience of what it’s like to work with urban problems in different countries and different economic and cultural circumstances,” Banerjee said. “The other aspect is that all studios are basically collaborative experiences.”
The fall 2010 planning studio in Ahmedabad, India, involved students from that city’s Center for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT) and from USC and Virginia Commonwealth University. In March, SPPD deepened this relationship with its Indian colleagues by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the State of Gujarat and with CEPT.
Working in seven groups, the Indian and American students focused on planning the development of the site where Mahatma Gandhi established an ashram in the 1930s and launched freedom movement initiatives against British colonial rule.
Since that time, Ahmedabad has grown into the largest city in the state of Gujarat and the seventh largest city in India, with a population of 5 million people. Urban sprawl and slum developments haphazardly have engulfed Gandhi’s ashram and the surrounding land.
“The city has decided that the area should be planned,” Banerjee said. “The students were asked to think about this plan somewhat differently and tried to derive some of their principles from Gandhi’s principles of self-help and ‘small is beautiful’ and sustainability. So that was a really new experience.”
India itself also was a new experience – both inside and outside of the classroom – for Master of Planning student Joshua Shake.
“Until you’ve gone there and experienced it with all five senses, you can’t – National Geographic and the documentaries on TV don’t do it justice,” he said. “There are the most amazing things and the most devastating things to your heart.”
For Master of Planning student Jennifer Nourafshan, collaborating with the Indian students allowed her to see planning through fresh eyes.
“I liked it because they learned planning and design in a totally different context than we did,” she said. “Even though we were using the same words, they were going about it in different ways.”
The spring planning studio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, presented an opportunity for an equally enriching collaboration between SPPD and USC’s School of Architecture.
In addition to Banerjee, School of Architecture faculty members Stefano de Martino, James Steele and Rachel Berney facilitated the studio, which was a first in terms of multidisciplinary collaboration between the two schools.
“I’m biased because I’m trained as a planner and as a designer, but I really see the fields as synthetic and very complementary,” Berney said. “There’s common, in-between space where design really gets grounded in social context – social, political and cultural factors – and policy can touch the ground in terms of design and actual physical development. So it’s like policy made manifest and design made meaningful.”
The students from the School of Architecture were equally enthusiastic about the collaboration.
“I always look for any chance to really get involved with the planning school because I’m interested in urban design,” said Nicole Friend, a Master of Architecture student in American Architecture and Urbanism +2 program.
Robin Abad, a student in the Master of Landscape Architecture +3 program, added, “I feel really strongly that the two disciplines – planning and landscape architecture – need to have more interaction, both in the professional world and also academically here at USC.”
Working with the City of Buenos Aires’ Department of Urban Development, five groups of USC planning, architecture and landscape architecture students worked on the revitalization of the historic district Nueva Pompeya, which comprises many villas miserias, or slums.
“For me, I want to do economic development, and I want to see a different perspective from abroad,” said Edward Ng, who is pursuing dual Master of Planning and Master of Public Policy degrees. “I like to call it a synergy of ideas. You have your own preset notions and preconceptions, and you go out and you see a different set of assumptions. You come back, and you create new ideas as a result. I think that’s a wonderful aspect of going abroad.”