In September, when I started the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program, I felt like I was in a crisis mode almost immediately. It seemed that through some poor choice of my own I had entered into a field that prepared students to be municipal planners or work for private consulting firms, and while I am not opposed to either of the two, neither one was ever something I thought of as a goal. I came into the field of planning because I wanted to study the intersection of environmental and social justice issues, because I don't think green movements are sustainable unless they are actually available as solutions to even the poorest people in the world. As I started taking my classes and learning about planning as a field I though that perhaps this program would have been better suited for someone who wanted to be a transportation planner or a land use planner, and I certainly didn't fit into the category.
I started talking to past graduates of the program and asked them what they thought I should do in order to make the program work for me. They suggested that I get in contact with OCCORD (Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development) and talk to them about the community organizing efforts that they do around the Platinum Triangle in Anaheim. This turned out to be a perfect connection for me, and I started to broaden my own view of planning as something that could range from municipal planning to community based planning efforts that occur within organizations like OCCORD. Both my experience working with them and my exposure to new teachers with different views helped me to expand my understanding of planning. Also, as I began to look at community based efforts as very much linked to planning I talked about these things often among my colleagues, because I felt that by continutally reminding others that planning was bigger than the city, then perhaps I could influence others who were struggling like I was.
During the Spring Quarter (which is currently ending) some students got together and initiated a class called Critical Urbanism. The students were the teachers in this class, coming up with the readings and course material. We talked about issues of race, class, and gender in planning. We also focused heavily on community based and radical planning efforts that worked to change the system rather than to uphold it. The twenty people in the class had different opinions, but were all of the same mind that something in planning needs to change in order to address critical issues that we often either don't think of as planning, or that city planning departments don't address.
Yesterday the class hosted its final project- a colloquuim called Planning in Crisis: Critical Urbanism in Action. The event consisted of three panels, each of which contained different speakers that could address ciritcal planning issues from a different perspective. We had community based planners/organizers from OCCORD and Latino Health Access. We had students from UCI, UCLA, and UCI that were talking about the efforts being made on their campus to address critical planning issues. We also had a panel where students and practioners talked about the collaboration of planning academia in addressing real world problems, and how some of their projects in the past have gone.
The event was a hit! The Department Chair among other faculty was extremely impressed by the event commenting that the speakers were very much on topic and everything ran very well. I heard rumors that the Department Chair really wants to publicize the event on the department's website because it went so well. Students were excited to make connections with radical planners in the community and on different campuses. Conversations were had among students from all three campuses regarding how we could connect in the future in order to work towards critical planning efforts.
For me, the event was so important because it was truly a benchmark of how far I have come within this program in just one year. I started off as a frustrated student, considering whether or not I belonged here, and ended as a student who felt like I had really accomplished something on campus. I feel like the first and most important think that I accomplished was the alliance of many like-minded students in the program. I also feel like in some ways because of my insistence on looking at planning outside of the box, I have helped my colleagues to do so as well. Thirdly, I feel like this group of students who views critical planning as important just established themselves on campus and earned the respect of the department through the event yesterday. So yeah- I feel really excited about this accomplishment and how this first year started on a rocky note and ended on a great one. I am hoping that this process can be continued into my experience as a second year in the program.