TheGreenUrbanista goes to London

Rather than searching for the cultural nucleus of planning practice in each nation, we need to understand how changes occur in planning practice in all nations, including our own.  Lacking such a comparative and dynamic understanding of social change, which is a central objective of planning, we may inadvertently legitimize both the stereotypes we hold of others and those they hold of us.

Comparative Planning Cultures, Sanyal, B., 2005

That’s right! I’m in London, for the next 12 months that is, to complete the MSc International Planning programme at the Bartlett, UCL.  Just finished the first week of class and I’m very excited about what lies ahead!

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Why International Planning?  The quote above might give you an idea.  What I’m after is a deeper and broader understanding of how nations, regions, cities, and neighbourhoods around the world have been and are being planned, developed, and run.  Given that urban planning is a relatively nascent discipline in most parts of the Middle East (at least as far as I can tell), I felt there was a lot to learn from others regions.

I believe that the many of the key battles of our time, those against climate change, inequality, and poverty for example, will be won or lost in cities and urban settlements around the world.  Spending a year reading and debating urban planning in one of the world’s most global cities (let’s not get into rankings) sounded like a worthwhile investment and a fun adventure…so here I am!

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As expected, the first week of classes included many attempts at capturing the essence of this discipline called ‘planning’.  Surprisingly, the starting point was that planning, whether related to social policy, physical infrastructure or anything in between, was not a neat technical discipline, but rather a quirky and very political activity.  And these were the academics speaking!

The first class of the Mega Infrastructure Planning course was particularly interesting.  The pace of this rapidly-evolving field means that nobody really has the answers, stressed the professor.  He did; however, share a lot of questions with us.  How do we plan large scale projects in this century or risk and uncertainty?  Who are the winners and losers (and yes, there are always losers)?  Do cities today build infrastructure to connect and collaborate or compete? How innovative can mega projects really be? What is success for a mega infrastructure project?

Of course, one of London’s delights is the incredible diversity on offer – diversity of people, place, and activity.  Out of a cohort of 24 students, there are no more than two people from the same country.  I look forward to sharing a classroom with peers from across the globe – literally.

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I also look forward to sharing more of my learning journey on this blog, and to your valuable comments, feedback, thoughts and insights…I’ll take anything I can get!

First question for my dear readers then: if you had to write 9,000 words on the social, political, environmental, and economic planning issues of one Arab city – which city would you pick?

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