Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I've been busting my head for the past few days writing this damn personal statement for my grad-school application. For those of you who may be out of the loop, the plan is that I'm hoping to planning school next fall. I gotta get me some real skills. Maybe by the time i'm thirty I'll be able to get a "real" job. Not that I mind selling technical apparel at Eastern Mountain Sports, it's just that I'll go crazy if I stay there too long.

To think that this is the 5th draft is heartbreaking.

“Couldn’t believe it, good 200-bushel-an-acre land under a dang Home Depot parking lot,” my uncle lamented over dinner at the farm. He was relating the story of his trip from Sioux City, Iowa to the Chicago suburbs where my cousin lives. My uncle and I have often differed on matters of politics and public policy, but on this topic we were on the same page. I see the natural landscape frivolously turned into lawns and subdivisions without a sidewalk in sight, he complains of the fertile farmland lost forever. We both agree that urban sprawl is out of hand.

While I have strong sympathies with New Urbanist design ideas, I have some reservations about high-density, transit-oriented developments. There must be some sort of sea-change for New Urbanism to catch on. Though the cost of our sprawling landscape is high, for many, those costs are less tangible than the benefits of the status quo. Without a clear comparison, we are likely to trade the nebulous problem: “less farmland” for the visible benefit: “abundant parking.” Finding ways to compare such disparate variables is an essential part of communicating the need to change our environmentally questionable development style to the public.

I am applying for the Master of City Planning degree at the University of Pennsylvania where I hope to contribute in two main ways. First, I hope to do research on the topic of incentives: specifically, the ways in which planners and policy makers can influence people into making transportation and housing decisions that appropriately weigh the benefits and negative externalities of their actions. I am particularly interested in Professor Keene’s studies on “walkable communities” and farmland preservation. Second, I realize that in order to implement change in a community, one needs the specific skills and know-how to take a project from paper to reality. While my undergraduate education gave me a conceptual understanding of urban landscapes, I realize that I need technical abilities to succeed. I am looking forward to improving my skills with GIS in order to use this powerful tool to communicate my ideas to others. Additionally, I believe that the opportunity to work directly with a client organization in one of the studio sessions will give me an experience unique among the graduate programs I’ve investigated.

After Penn, I intend to take my skills and experience to the workplace. As a firm believer in the necessity of regional planning, my aim is to work for a private firm or regional organization that will allow me to focus on the preservation of natural resources through sound planning. The need for mobility, independence and space are deeply ingrained in the American mind. I respect these needs, but understand that the long-term viability of our cities and country depends on us making better use of our resources. In our country, where space is not infinite, mobility depends on having a car and independence requires gas money, finding an alternative to urban sprawl is not just a good idea, it is imperative.

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