Urban Planning is Really Quite Fetching

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By Alma Siulagi '10

From the Spring 2010 Caller

As my childhood years faded into the past, the conviction that I would one day change the world dissipated. With the slow creep of reality reducing my options, I resorted to crossing my fingers in hope of stumbling upon another fabulous passion.

The wait was a long one. Throughout the first half of high school, I couldn’t even pick a specific subject that particularly captivated me. I was perfectly decent in most classes, and good grades were within reach if I worked hard (which I did). But nothing came naturally. I was restless about my future, and in a fit of aimlessness, I signed up for PLACE, at the time OULP (Oregon Urban Leadership Program). The vague course name matched my fuzzy understanding of the course, which, as far as I knew, was something my mom wanted me to do.
 
George Zaninovich, the current head of PLACE, often tells me that “urban planning isn’t sexy.” But I disagree—it completely seduced me with what I had passed off as the impossible. Changing the world may be forever beyond my reach, but changing lives materialized as a real option with PLACE.
 
What is urban planning? Most of my peers don’t know, and ask me to define it. I usually ramble on about “public spaces” and end sentences with “you know,” but what I really want to say is: It’s where we are standing right now, you and me. It’s everything around us—the buildings, businesses, the flowers on the side of the road, stoplights, your next door neighbor’s house, the way that road curves in a certain way, that tree you like to sit under in the park. It’s something that changes every step you make, provides the backdrop of every memory good and bad, and it’s what I want to do. It’s changed my world, and one day, I will change yours.
 
Until then, I’ll be here. I’ve chosen to stay in Portland, an urban design and planning hotspot, and study at Reed College. I’ll be downtown starting in May, working with Walker Macy, the firm that designed parts of Catlin Gabel’s breathtaking campus. I plan to spend the next few years learning urban planning inside and out (well, as much as one ever can with such a fluid subject), and then get started on changing the world.