Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mellon Collaborative Studies Fellowship - Cuba as Project

Photo by Hannah Bahnmiller
On September 23rd, a group of students ranging from Urban Planning, Architecture, to Government studies embarked upon a 10 day journey through Havana, Cuba with the Mellon Collaborative Studies Fellowship program. Through a series of readings and seminar discussions, we attempted to apply the theoretical underpinnings of the course to Cuba's urban environment. Applying what we experienced in class though became difficult. Laden with the unexpected, the trip was much more than a formal study of the urbanization of Havana. 

From the onset, we we're met with a tour guide named Vladimir (Vlad for short) who later admitted that our group was unique to him. As the days passed our relationship with him matured into something new for everyone. We weren't quite tourists neither were we researchers: our presence functioned somewhere in between these roles. For example, the question of "otherness" and ethics played a major role during a visit to the communities (El Fanguito) along the Almendares river bank, where Santeria "rule of the saints" an Afro-Cuban religion is practiced.

Sun, wind, rain, and vehicle exhaust framed the backdrop most days while we walked the streets of Havana. What we discovered in Old Havana became a metronome to what the urban Cuban faces in this unique transitory era. Rehabilitation and decay of the city's infrastructure proclaimed a sense of awe and potential within our minds. Old Havana is also a district the government recognizes potential as it represents the apex of redevelopment strategies. It's history is overwhelming where Neo-Baroque architecture sits as memories of colonial aspiration and revolutionary ideals.

Photo by Christine Kim
In all, I am still processing my experiences and it is safe to say so are my colleagues. Now back in another world within the university we have to turn our processes into intelligible projects. We are excited to share what comes out of our course and have developed a great love for Cuba's unique and complex history. Current efforts to work with a globalizing world where even it's closest allies are beginning to develop their own strategies to move forward into the coming decade have transitioned Cuba into a process that will indeed allow for more economic diversity. Yet at what cost is for the Communist project? This question is in the back of the minds of many around the world and most certainly the people of Cuba.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion

PSEI Board: Left to right - Keaton Wetzel,
Hannah Bahnmiller, Stephen Wiley & Minxuan Zou
It’s getting on that frenetic time in the semester when I’m at once looking forward to what’s next and back at what’s been, while trying not to lose track of what still needs to be done. I am on the board of Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion, and, as part of my current stock-taking, I’ve been considering how we as a community are doing with regard to the organization’s core concerns and how we as a board have contributed.

First, some background on who we are for those who may not be familiar with our organization. On this year’s board are Hannah Bahnmiller, Keaton Wetzel, Minxuan Zou, and me, Stephen Wiley. After we took over in February and discussed with the previous board, we decided to change the organization’s name to Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion from Planning Students for Diversity. We believe our new name better reflects the focus of the organization, and more clearly broadcasts our mission.

Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion (PSEI) seeks to engage with the Cornell planning community on issues related to social justice and equity as well as ensure that CRP is a welcoming and inclusive place to study.

We work to deepen students’ conception of social justice by highlighting and stoking discussion of policies that entrench unequal life outcomes; by deconstructing narratives of racism, sexism, classism, nativism, and heteronormativity; and by foregrounding creative and equitable solutions.

We assist our department in attracting and yielding planning students that are traditionally underrepresented in the field and critical to successfully tackling social inequity. Additionally, it is our mission to ensure that students from every background feel safe, supported, and valued in our department.

In my view, this has been an exceptional semester of extra-curricular programming related to the issues central to our mission. That is due in large part to the committed, coordinated efforts of students throughout the department, and especially the work of former PSEI board member Alia Fierro, who organized many of these events to tremendous success. PSEI and OCP were more than thrilled to pitch in along the way. These events included a well-curated, trio of speakers that addressed a range of equity and inclusion topics, as well as the department’s first-ever event aimed at informing and attracting undergraduates identifying as underrepresented minorities to the planning field. Both the series and the event were expertly-executed and very well-attended.

For our part, PSEI contributed two #RealTalk events in the past two months, each featuring thoughtful discussion on obstacles facing effective equity planning and potential strategies for overcoming those blocks. The second of these events was facilitated by Professor Jamila Michener of Cornell’s Government Department — my personal semester highlight. Professor Michener, who studies racial inequality and urban poverty, greatly enriched our on-going conversations about the ways in which government fails to engage and respond to poor communities, often communities of color, and what planners can do about it. We hope to have her back next semester to continue the discussion.

So there’s my look back. I have to say, things went well, and it was a true group effort. As for what’s next, PSEI is energized by Alia’s example, and thanks in large part to the support from the other members of last year’s board, Jubek and Beth, we are in a great position to build on the momentum of this semester’s success. That will mean taking on more of the organizational tasks, which we are all very eager to do. Our last board meeting will be next week, after which we plan to solicit the CRP community for feedback and suggestions going into next year. Don’t worry students, it will be after exams. So stay focused, but also stay tuned.

Article and Photo Credit: Stephen Wiley, MRP '17

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

CRP Open House 2016

Sibley Hall was abuzz with activity the weekend of March 18 as dozens of prospective students visited Cornell to learn more about the City and Regional Planning program.

On Thursday evening, current students led small groups of prospective students to their favorite restaurants in Collegetown, including Aladdins Natural Eatery, De Tasty Hot Pot, The Nines for pizza, and Koko Korean. With full bellies and initial introductions under their belts, each dinner group made their way to The Nines for drinks and banter with more prospective and current students.

Bright and early Friday morning, the Open House coordinators greeted prospective students with nametags, informational packets, and an expansive breakfast spread in Milstein Dome. Director of Graduate Studies Stephan Schmidt and Historic Preservation Professor Jeff Chusid kicked off the morning of departmental events with an introduction to Cornell and the Department of City and Regional Planning. Current faculty members took turns introducing themselves, the courses they teach, and their research interests. After a short break, current students Thaddeus Bell (MRP/MPS ‘17), Annie Pease (MRP ‘16), Zeynep Goksel (MRP/MLA ‘17) and Xiaozhong Sun (MRP ‘16) described their experiences inside and outside CRP. Thaddeus and Zeynep encouraged students to get involved in the Design Connect student organization to apply classroom learning to real world planning projects. Annie discussed her research on participatory budgeting during her travels to Indonesia and recommended that students focus course projects on their area of interest in order to produce a robust portfolio of work to support their exit projects and wow potential employers. Sun, who will pursue a PhD in the CRP department upon graduation, spoke about his research interests in informal markets.

Next, alumni panelists Seth Eden (MRP ‘10, DAI), and C.J. Randall (MRP ‘11, Randall + West), Sylvia Xiaomeng Li (MRP ‘14, NYC Department of City Planning), and Isaac Robb (MRP ‘15, Western Reserve Land Conservancy) gave insight into how their experiences at Cornell prepared them for the job search.

"The current student and alumni panels gave a good sense of student life and how Cornell's program prepared the alumni for the job market."

After the panels, prospective students mingled with alumni, current students, and faculty over lunch before moving to Milstein Auditorium for a showing of Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion. Director Matthew Silva answered questions following the film as part of the CRP City and Regional Futures Colloquium Series. From there, prospective students were invited to speak with faculty members one-on-one during their office hours before gathering for a campus walking tour. In between scheduled events, prospective students were strongly encouraged to sit in on CRP courses and weekly student organization meetings.

The two tour groups endured a drizzly rain and arrived at the Big Red Barn to enjoy $1 beer at Tell Grads It’s Friday (TGIF) with other current students. The Barn provided a cozy respite from the weather and gave prospectives time to chat candidly with current students. From there, the entire group walked to the Miller Heller House in Collegetown for a dinner hosted by the various student groups inside the City and Regional Planning department. Sushi, wraps, and other tasty nibblies filled students’ plates as they socialized in the historic space. Each student organization gave a brief introduction to their work and opportunities for involvement, including Planning Students for Equity and Inclusion, Women’s Planning Forum, International Planning Students Organization, Organization of Cornell Planners, Design Connect, and the International City/County Management Association.

"The Big Red Barn and the Student Group Dinner were really great opportunities to have more casual conversations with current students and to really ask questions/get a sense for the program. I found that incredibly helpful. I was very impressed with the sense of camaraderie among the students and their obvious love for the program."

After dinner, the group walked downtown and gathered upstairs at Chanticleer for the final event of the evening: the ever-popular Pecha Kucha presentations. Students were met with dim lights, popular music, and a photo slideshow of CRP departmental and social events. A mix of current MRP, HPP, and PhD students and faculty presented 20 slides with only 20 seconds per slide before it automatically flipped to the next slide. The open-ended prompt was “How Did You Get Here?” Presenters had the audience in stitches as they flipped through baby pictures and life experiences that led them to Cornell. This event is always a favorite among prospective and current students alike. The dance floor opened up and students enjoyed beverages, music and dancing until the bar closed.

Open House weekend came to a close with a jog around town on Saturday afternoon. Current students bid prospective students farewell, hoping to see many of them again in the fall.

A few more comments we received from Open House attendees in the post-event survey:

"Pecha Kucha was a wonderful way to know professors & students better in an informal/casual atmosphere. It's a great idea."

"I thought the most worthwhile events were the classes we were invited to sit in on, and the faculty office hours. They really better equipped me to the Cornell style of teaching and instruction."

"Every student I interacted with leading up to the open house was fantastic. They are so helpful and so enthusiastic about the program."

"I really appreciated the quick turn around on my application and the incredibly informative and enthusiastic acceptance letter that I received. My entire administrative experience with Cornell so far is a major "pro" in my pro/con list as I try to decide on a program."

For those who were unable to attend Open House 2016, a recording of the departmental events can be accessed at this link.

Article Credit: Kelsey Padgham, MRP '17
Photo Credits: Kelsey Padgham, MRP '17; Annie Pease, MRP '16; Tina Marie Hayes Nelson, CRP Co-ordinator