From typesetting to comics, video editing to newspapers, page designs to parks. My background in design has been a diverse and enlightening journey like a road trip with little regard for destination. From every detour I can extract life lessons and technical skills like souvenirs that can be applied to any future creative pursuit. For the next leg of my journey, I want to shape the destination myself. My undergraduate degree in Design has come with aesthetic sensibilities and a love of efficiency that many of my cohorts will apply to product or graphic design, but I want to design places instead of things. I want to be creative without creating objects that will eventually be thrown away. Urban Design offers me the chance to create things that will last a lifetime, and Community and Regional Planning will help me work within the system that controls so much of how the world is shaped. In order to delve further into my chosen field, I need the guidance and structure graduate school provides to get me back on the road to my destination: the world I want to live in.
The design program at the University of Texas in Austin aims for the integration of design across all fields. This is why I believe a Master of Science in Urban Design degree, as well as a Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning degree, will both be essential for my success. I want to create designs as a result of planning that incorporates the entire community as active stakeholders. I am fascinated by the collaborative processes necessary to accomplish large scale objectives and believe that diverse community participation is a necessary tool for meeting the needs of a population. I am inspired by projects like CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy) that collaborate with teaching-artists to demystify public policies and help individuals shape their own habitat. It would be strange to me to separate research and policy from design, because my entire academic career has been based on the integration of the two. My academic upbringing in design will be an asset in my chosen fields. Although my work up to this point has not been focused on urban design, the education I received is a brand of scientific methods that can be applied to any creative field. Focused research, diligent investigation, organization, and critical thinking, are skills I acquired that can be utilized on any project. We were taught to value efficiency, economy, sustainability, and thorough analysis as much as the aesthetics of the final product. When I am accepted, I plan to enroll in CAD summer courses add to my repertoire of applicable skills.
One of the projects I worked as an undergraduate was analyzing specific issues within the Waller Creek Masterplan and designing solutions. Because of its location through the heart of downtown Austin, the coming improvements to take Waller Creek out of the flood plane are poised to raise property values in the area and change the entire dynamic of central Austin. My selected area of improvement was public restrooms, focusing on Waterloo Park. After analyzing my research, I realized that the real issues with the restrooms (and why they were permanently out-of-order) had little to do with its physical design, and everything to do with vandalism and misuse of the facilities. I turned from designing pretty potties to designing a public/private partnership to bring an Austin-style food trailer onto the premises at a reduced permit rate in exchange for managing and supervising the park's restrooms. After our final presentation, I was invited by our guest critic to present my idea to the Austin Department of Parks and Recreation. I attended a Parks and Recreation meeting and made my case to the department. This project not only introduced me to the inner workings of my local government and to a staff I would later work with and come to admire, but it also showed me how much room there is for creativity within the seemingly restrictive sphere of public policy.
I didn't know it at the time, but among the cast of public servants in my audience at my Waterloo Park Presentation was Ricardo Soliz, Division Manager. I shadowed Ricardo a year later to gain insight on the day-to-day activities of the Parks and Recreation Department. Soaking up the vocabulary and the atmosphere of the Parks and Recreation department, I learned a lot that few people in my demographic concern themselves with. In that brief period I learned more about public policy than I had even considered existed before. The maps Ricardo showed me utilized all the skills I had learned in design school: research, organization, visual balance, readability and more. Even the department budget was fascinating to me. I was most enamored by the collaborative processes between the city and private entities. I was able to sit in on a private design firm's presentation to the Parks Department and other interest groups. The firm wanted to turn a right-of-way easement into a pocket park, and was struggling to wade through the political side of the design process. The firm had donated money for renovation (the easement was located on their studio's front door) and were pushing for more funds from the Austin Park's and Recreation Department. After the presentation, I listened to the PARD staff discussing the misplaced assumptions of the design team regarding financing and how long it would take for the park to come into existence. This incident cemented my desire to integrate planning and design in my degree plan. This incident, among others, cemented in me the belief that to be a better designer, of spaces or policies, I need to be able to understand both sides.
My educational journey is really just beginning. I have been lucky enough to visit several international cities and experience the effects of varying urban planning philosophies. I loved the histories of London, and Paris, and was completely amazed by the differences in urban landscape in Hong Kong. Even in the United States, visiting friends in Detroit has shown me what a difference urban planning makes. Working as an intern at an architecture magazine, volunteering in urban gardens and community building programs, shadowing and working with the Austin Parks and Recreation department and my travels have all been different routes on my academic road trip, but what I thought were separate paths are all converging now in urban planning and urban design.
I am applying to the University of Texas, school of architecture-Community and Regional planning and urban design
additional schools I might apply for if i have time (for CRP only):
University of Wisconsin
University of Michigan
University of Illinois