An International Introduction
By Victoria Baker
It was a little over a month since I had graduated high school when I was first introduced to the concept of urban planning.
My mother and I were taking the scenic route home, discussing the problems and frustrations regarding the layout of our own automotive city. I must have been particularly passionate about this topic, because after a few minutes of conversation she asked me “why don’t you become an urban planner?” I thought about it for a good thirty to forty seconds before asking her, “But what is an urban planner?”
A little less than eight months later I found myself at the largest, most international gathering on urbanization in the world. It was a surreal experience, exploring the conference centre located in downtown Abu Dhabi, UAE. For a moment it was hard to rationalize that I was really there rather than in a university lecture hall that I had become accustomed to.
The tenth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10) proved to be an excellent learning experience for me. As a prospective biologist, I was initially very interested in learning about what the cities of today as well as the cities of tomorrow are doing to combat the ongoing climate crisis. I had expected the conference to be limited to presentations on urban farming expanding green spaces and carbon-free technology. I was pleasantly surprised to find not only were there various discussions on climate change - but that urban planning was a much broader subject than I had previously imagined.
There were all sorts of panels and discussions ranging from the idea of potentially floating cities to discourse on the role of culture in communities. I was unexpectedly drawn to dialogues surrounding social inclusivity and youth innovation as well as the parts these elements play in creating healthy urban centres. I was quite happy to discover that urban planning not only considered the importance of sustainability, but that it also considered quality of life for the people residing in these cities. Now that I have returned home with some substantial knowledge on the subject, I find myself asking more questions about how alternate planning could improve the lives of individuals in my city.
In conclusion, I ended up getting a pretty solid definition of what it means to be an urban planner. Not only did this experience inform and educate me in terms of urbanization, it also taught me a lot about the professional side to business, diplomacy and discussion. By meeting with numerous ambassadors, diplomats and ministers I learnt how to conduct myself in a professional manner and how to create meaningful interactions with others. As a young person just beginning to navigate the world, I found this training and experience to be invaluable.
However, the greatest lesson I learned through my participation with Wuf 10 and UNA-Canada is that asking the right questions is just as important as finding the right solutions. If we hope to change the world of tomorrow, then we must ask questions and learn from the world of today.