Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why I am pursuing simotaneous degrees in Civil Engineering and Urban Studies

My decision to do a simultaneous degree in civil engineering and urban studies seems really odd, but I think its worth it. I'm still contemplating how this will work out, but given the few weeks I've spent on this life-changing campus, it's best to examine why I chose this path; I normally don't blog this long. The fact that I've gave such a long post shows: I am actually stopping and thinking about the consequences of my actions at Berkeley, and I've been so happy here that I don't do the latter (which can be a bad thing). If you can handle reading this long and want to know a bit more about me, you are kick-ass!

In short, I chose to do the simultaneous degree in those two fields because I want to establish an interdisciplinary curriculum, while creating an urban planning, public policy approach to designing, building and maintaining the built environment around me. I want humanity in my education, and to broaden my way of thinking.

My decision was first developed out learning from the efforts of others in this campus. I've met extra-ordinary people who work extremely hard to make a difference in their communities and lives, despite the challenges they face or the personal problems they have in their lives (i.e. heavy course-load, financial problems, health, etc.). The challenges in this world are exactly as complicated. I do want to take responsibility for problems in the world, but I just do not know how.
I feared working hard because I felt my social life, myself, would be taken away. However, given the amount of work I've seen, sometimes much more than I do, I realized that it takes effort to deal with the magnitude of problems in our society. I'm just inspired by people here; for people who know me personally, you KNOW I study hard. I've met people who study harder than me. I just want to be quicker critical thinker.

Secondly, I recognized my way of thinking is just WAYY too limited. By being around many different people, I realized I just couldn't just be a technical thinker who loves to think about how buildings are built or why the architectural design of a structure is picked as such. Either way, I regret not listening to my English teachers when they use literary techniques because whenever I am trying to think of something non-engineering related, nothing pops up in my mind. I want something creative to pop up in my mind! Alll that pops up are buildings and banana buildings (well, not 100% literally, but 50% of the time!). I want the stories of humanity, the average person who wants to make a difference in the world just to come up! I want to understand people, to be kind, to understand public policy and give technical expertise at the same time.

Thirdly, it's a really kick-ass combination to do civil engineering and urban studies. Just in short, buildings, transit-oriented developments, architecture, transportation engineering. It feels like the harder-version of SimCity all over again.

Fourthly, I love learning about the urban society. Maybe this does (OR DOESN'T relate directly to urban studies, but in someways IT IS), but every-time I pick up my copy of Hyphen Magazine, I get really consumed and interested in dealing with the urban issues that the writers put out (i.e. green nail salons due to the health problems from chemicals which previously caused cancer in "non-green nail salons", a concept brought up by Asian-Americans which have to face challenges such as the costs of being environmentally friendly or the cheap cost of the harmful nail care products). I love trying to imagine how can we take advantage of dense urban areas and trying to make them more vibrant, walkable, and community-like. Urban studies has a very political like feel due to the issues involved (i.e. housing, urban communities, designing transit-friendly places and working with businesses to make that happen).

When I spend much of time in Wurster Hall's College of Environmental Design library, I just want to pick up a majority of the books and read them all.... there are lots of ideas to design sustainable communities and improve our lives just staring at everything in the library. For example, I recently picked up a book on Urban Gardening.. a concept which is rarely taught now due to our heavily industrialized society.. the pictures are amazing; I saw pictures mapped out on where the gardens should be, how to plant the plants, etc (despite the fact that I have friends who disagree with Michael Pollan's suggestion of bringing back urbanized gardening and a decentralized food economy, these books proved to me that these ideas are possible). I had a headache, so I couldn't look at it all. There was a new book the CED library had on Integrative Urban Planning, I believe, and the author really emphasized how urban planning should emphasize the needs of the individuals (ok, maybe it sounds corny and obvious); there were lots of diagrams and pictures related to the group needs and individual needs of a person in order to be happy in a city.. Maps, design, laying out walkable pedestrian zones (I saw a map of a urban planning plan of a part of Guangzhou in the CED hallways); I've never been so passionate about something like this in a LONG time.

I'm still amazed that I sound like this interdiciplinary urban-planner ish person, but I should emphasize the civil engineering part of my decision. It takes engineers to make all these things happen. Our generation, as one article pointed out I read a long time ago, is heavily a generation of liberal arts majors (not to diss liberal arts majors; they have great criticial thinking skills that I do not have and envy!).It is so cool that engineers are the ones which wield heaviest in changing the rules; I need a urban stuides background so that if I had an influence in public policy, it would be in terms of a technical background (for example, one of the reasons why it's really difficult to retrofit buildings is due to the amount of bureaucracy involved in enact it). It's so kick-ass to have a big-role in improving our infrastructure.

One of the biggest things in my mind is the high speed rail project taking place across California. EVERYBODY will be involved in this project (urban planners planning out the area; engineers planning the buildings, train stations, communities, trains, fuel power; business placing business in the area and housing; artists trying to beautify the area; public policy makers trying to create studies to understand the impact of the designs... etc.).

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but given the challenges of our generation (which are more greater than the stress I'll face in college; believe me, I enjoy a busy lifestyle), I just feel obliged to make a difference in society through these things I'm so heavily passionate about. Wish me luck!

- PS; If you actually read this whole thing, you are amazing. I usually can't come across people through talking about this since urban studies, despite its interdisiciplinary feeling, is a very esoteric field (only 50 people major in it in CED!).

1 comment:

Joy Regullano said...

good luck! ;)
i'm behind you 100%!
i love people who are passionate about what they do.