Congratulations, CPUA Class of 2021

Congratulations to our City Planning and Urban Affairs Class of 2021! We are so proud of your accomplishments, and we wish the very best in your next chapter!

Spring and Summer 2021 Graduates: Arya Alizadeh, MCP, Andree Entezari, MCP, Shengxiang Jin, MCP, Jiawei Li, MCP, Julia Mintz, MCP, Aneri Patel, MCP, Daniel Pezzano, MUA, Winston Pierre, MCP, Maria Alejandra Santa, MCP, Ceping Shan, MCP, Lauren Shapiro, MUA, Boyang Shi, MCP, Peiyao Wang, MUA, Stephen Yale, MCP

Downtown After COVID: IOC/CPUA Panel Explores Key Questions in Urban Pandemic Recovery

(Boston, MA 4/7/21) BUCPUA faculty members David Valecillos and Emily Innes discuss the future of our cities with Brian Swett of Arup and Jon Chesto of The Boston Globe as part of the Initiative on Cities/CPUA event, “Downtown After COVID: Will Urban Centers be the Same?”. (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

As the weather warms and the city of Boston emerges from a long winter defined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one question looms in everyone’s minds: what will our cities look and feel like in the months ahead?

The April 7th panel “Downtown After COVID: Will Urban Centers be the Same?”, hosted by the BU Initiative on Cities and BUCPUA, centered around this very question. The virtual event brought together three experts in city planning, sustainability, and real estate for a conversation moderated by Jon Chesto of The Boston Globe: Brian Swett of the global design firm Arup; Emily Keys Innes, founder of Innes Associates and current CPUA faculty member; and David Valecillos, Director of Design at North Shore Community Development Coalition and a CPUA faculty and alumnus.

Chesto’s first question invited the panelists to share their general perspectives on the future of cities post-COVID.

Swett touched on the tension between people’s desire for a return to socialization and the benefits of working from home. “After the year-plus that we’ve been through, I think there is a sincere desire to interact more with our colleagues, but not necessarily a return back to full-fledged normal,” Swett said. 

In his view, the cities that have fared best during the pandemic have been those that were “inherently further along in progress to a walkable urbanity with a mix of uses.” With less people commuting and more people spending time outside, Swett envisions a future in which “we can use our outdoor spaces and our public realms and reduce some of the areas that we had devoted to parking and logistics.”

After Innes and Valecillos offered their perspectives, Chesto shifted the conversation to what Boston’s recovery might look like as compared to smaller cities.

Innes named several policy changes that could benefit both larger cities like Boston and smaller cities and towns throughout the region. In addition to expanding broadband internet access to facilitate working and learning from home, Innes said leaders should focus on “making sure that we have a strong regional network of transport, whether it’s bus, train, light-rail.” 

“That’s what’s going to make a successful region and state recovery and not just a successful Boston recovery,” Innes said. 

The conversation moved to infrastructure investment, and Valecillos emphasized the need to invest with an eye towards social justice and equity. According to Valecillos, a major component of equitable investment is “helping make transit cool again.” 

“We have decades of policy making focusing only on the car and how to benefit the car and the highway,” Valecillos said. “How do we shift that paradigm so that when you go out, you take the bus, you take the train, it’s cool and it’s nice and it’s how you see your friends?”

One reason why efficient transportation networks will be so important in the post-pandemic world is shifting patterns of work and leisure. Swett pointed out that when remote employees are no longer leaving their homes for work, they will be more willing to travel farther in their free time. This opens up “the opportunity for our region to get much less structured about when we’re working, when we’re playing, and when we’re visiting each other.”

From Innes’ perspective, Boston and its surrounding towns should capitalize on this opportunity by building transportation systems that allow people to “jump over to the next town or two towns over” after work. Instead of having just one large urban cultural center within a state or region, Valecillos added “there might be different energies focused elsewhere.”

A subsequent audience question about the role of public parks in urban recoveries elicited an enthusiastic response from the panelists.

“Parks are a foundational aspect for any community, but especially for a big city,” Innes said. “How do we think about these places, whether large or small, as really being fundamental rights for the communities?”

According to Swett, new parks and public spaces might not appear to have obvious patrons, but “you build it and people will come out of the woodwork at all hours of the day for something cool and a new experience in the public realm.” In Valecillos’ experience, public parks are key to bringing together people from different backgrounds and fighting urban segregation.

Chesto concluded by asking the panelists for their suggestions about how the benefits realized from urban pandemic recoveries can “be shared by all going forward.”

Swett said cities should be intentional in uplifting communities that have been historically disprivileged and forgotten. “We have to be justice-oriented and inequitable in our investment in the sense of investing in communities that received less investment in the past,” Swett said. 

From Innes’ point of view, the pandemic laid bare many of the inequities in our cities, and leaders should seize the opportunity to address them, whether through easily accessible transportation or affordable multigenerational homes.

“Low-income communities deserve great design and great solutions just as much as higher-income communities do, and I think sometimes we forget that,” Innes said. “Let’s put our best talents in design of systems as well as places [for] those communities and really invest in them.”

Emanne Khan, CAS ‘23

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From Networking to Interviews: BUCPUA Students Learn Tips for “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search”

(Boston, MA 4/2/21) BUCPUA students listen to a Zoom presentation about career-building resources as part of the CPUA workshop, “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search.” (Photo by Andrea Ciminelli)

Finding and securing a job in today’s turbulent environment is no small feat, and candidates face myriad challenges when taking the next steps in their professional lives. On Friday, April 2nd, BUCPUA hosted a virtual workshop entitled “Ensuring Success in Your Job Search” to ease some of the anxiety inherent to the process and equip students with useful insight and resources for conquering the job market.

The workshop featured CPUA Director Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler; current Dean of the School of Business and Communication at Regis College, Dr. William Koehler; and Monique Yaptenco, a 2017 CPUA alumna with a Master in Urban Affairs. All three speakers are seasoned professionals with years of experience navigating multiple industries, and at the April 2nd event they shared their extensive knowledge with the group of students and alumni in attendance.

Dr. Dutta-Koehler began by welcoming the attendees and emphasizing the importance of the workshop. “This is really the first step to being successful,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler told the group.

After the two other speakers introduced themselves, Yaptenco followed with a presentation on preparing to launch your job search. Her extensive professional history includes jobs at a television station in the Philippines, the United Nations, local government in New Zealand and, more recently, BU. 

Yaptenco advised the attendees to start by reviewing their online presence from an employer’s perspective. “It’s very important for you to figure out what is out there about yourself,” Yaptenco said. “Your profile, your digital presence, this is your context. You have to make sure you have control of it.”

She went on to provide the group with tips for developing their personal brand in order to distinguish themselves from other candidates. According to Yaptenco, “We don’t all have to be the best at everything, we just have to be able to communicate who we are, what is meaningful to us, and what we can bring to the organization.”

Polished self-presentation turned out to be one of the recurring themes of the event. Dr. Dutta-Koehler followed Yaptenco with a section about searching and applying for jobs. When crafting a resume and cover letter, Dr. Dutta-Koehler stressed the importance of presenting yourself in a manner that is “precise” and “pin-pointed” to the specific job you are applying for.

Dr. Dutta-Koehler added that personal connections are just as important as your written documents. “It is super, super important to start nurturing your connections,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said. “Generally, it’s good practice to know what other people, your peers, [and] professionals are doing and to learn from them, because that really is the fastest way to gain experience and insights that you wouldn’t ordinarily have.”

The task of covering one of the most daunting steps in the job search fell to Dr. William Koehler. Dr. Koehler began his career as a recruiter and hiring manager, and he approached his portion of the workshop from an employer perspective. He focused primarily on interviewing, which many candidates find intimidating but is key for both the employer and candidate to assess potential fit.

Specificity and authenticity are the name of the game when it comes to interviews, according to Dr. Koehler. After sharing his “Ten Commandments of Interviewing” with the group, he opened the floor for workshop attendees to practice answering common interview questions and provided feedback on their responses.

For open-ended questions like “What type of work environment do you prefer?”, Dr. Koehler advised the group to begin their response with a short tagline before launching into specific examples based on their past experiences. Anecdotes serve to show that “you’re learning through the process of your professional development and you’re actively exploring how to take the next steps.”

In fact, using examples and anecdotes from past experiences is one of the best strategies candidates can use to answer a variety of questions. Dr. Koehler stressed that “All experience is good experience,” as long as you can clearly relate your experiences to what you learned from them. “Make every answer as specific and tied to past experience as possible,” Dr. Koehler added. 

While the workshop provided invaluable advice and resources tailored to the CPUA community, it was just the first step in “ensuring success in your job search.” For students and alumni who missed the event or want a refresher on what was covered, watch the recording or visit the official CPUA professional development site with even more resources to offer. Good luck to all!

Emanne Khan, CAS ‘23

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Lessons from the Past and Looking to the Future: BUCPUA Celebrates Women’s History Month

(Graphic by Emanne Khan)

March is Women’s History Month, and amidst the hustle and bustle of the semester BUCPUA recognizes the unique role that women have played in urban planning throughout the years. Women are historically underrepresented as leaders in the profession, but change is happening both at BU and across the world to increase women’s visibility and participation in urban planning spaces.

Sexism in Our Cities

From its sidewalks to its public transportation systems, the average American city was not built with women’s needs in mind. Urban scholar and historian Dolores Hayden focused on this fact in her groundbreaking 1980 article, “What Would a Non-Sexist City Be Like? Speculations on Housing, Urban Design, and Human Work.”

Hayden argued that much of our physical environment was designed at a time when women were expected to stay at home caring for their families, and architects and urban planners did not prepare for women to enter the labor force as they did in large numbers during the 1960s. “Dwellings, neighborhoods, and cities designed for homebound women constrain women physically, socially, and economically,” Hayden wrote. 

From Hayden’s perspective, conventional, single-family homes with their private, self-contained spaces isolate women as they carry out housekeeping tasks. Women who attempt to move beyond the isolated, single-family home find it difficult navigating from residential areas to places of employment to childcare services, because cities were built around the idea that “the traditional household with a male worker and an unpaid homemaker is the goal to be achieved or stimulated.”

Today, women still face many challenges in their interactions with urban design. A 2011 Gallup poll identified a 23 percent gap in the number of men versus women in high income countries who say they feel safe walking alone in their cities at night. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, women use public transportation more than men, but public transportation infrastructure does not always include accommodations for women who might be traveling with children. Bus and train stations are often located far from employment hubs, forcing women to make long, potentially dangerous walks on poorly lit streets. Public parks do not always have bathrooms for women, or well-lit open spaces where women are less likely to be harassed. 

Why are women’s needs still being left out of the equation? It helps to start at the top. Women are woefully underrepresented in positions of authority and influence within the urban planning and design worlds. Urban anthropologist Katrina Zimmerman-Johnston observed in 2017 that women made up less than half of the speakers at the foremost urbanist conferences that year, and only six percent of contributors to a 2016 edition of the Routledge Press City Reader. Women hold only 17 spots on the most recent edition of Planetizen’s list of the 100 most influential urbanists.

“If you have the same people around the table who have been trying to solve the same challenges for 50 years, nothing will change,” planning advocate Lynn Ross told Zimmerman-Johnston. “I think it’s important to have women not only at the table, but women running the meeting, setting the table, bringing voices in and leading. She has a variety of perspectives, as a caretaker, as a mother, as a sister, but also—she’s an urbanist—and she has something to say about cities and how they work.”

Time for Change

The lack of recognition and space for woman urbanist leaders is a challenge current BUCPUA students Ashiyana Swar, MUA and Maria Alejandra Santa, MCP are tackling head-on through the new BU Women in Urban Planning (WUP) collaborative, which they launched in February.

Swar reached out to Santa, a fellow member of the BU Urban Planning Association, about starting a professional group for women after observing “all the remarkable women” in the CPUA program. “It was very enriching and enlightening to hear about all the diverse backgrounds of where these women were coming from both professionally and personally,” Swar said. “And as I reflected, I envisioned there can perhaps be a lot of growth, if all the women in our program came together to build a community for dialogue and advancement.”

Santa added that she hardly knew Swar before they got together to discuss starting a women’s group, but they immediately clicked once they started talking. “I wondered, well, if that [connection] happened to Ashiyana and [me], what is going to happen if we really build a community where we feel safe to talk about women's problems, issues that we face, how we feel outside, how we feel walking?” Santa said. 

Santa and Swar began conducting research to inform WUP’s mission and goals, and the statistics they found were disappointing, if not surprising. According to a 2020 World Bank report, women occupy only 10 percent of the highest ranking jobs at leading architecture firms and urban planning offices worldwide. 

“And for the 10 percent of the women in these positions, we reflected on their journeys, and we were actually inspired to increase the percentage of women [in] these high ranking positions,” Swar said. 

After establishing the need for a group like WUP, Santa and Swar turned to Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler, CPUA Director and Associate Professor of Practice, for support. Dr. Dutta-Koehler is an MIT-trained planner who in addition to overseeing the CPUA program at BU, serves as the president and co-founder of Urbanability, a non-profit organization that designs technology-integrated strategies to improve the health and well-being of all urban residents.

As a woman holding multiple leadership roles in urban planning, Dr. Dutta-Koehler is well-acquainted with the challenges women face advancing in the field. “Historically, it is very hard and challenges the status quo when women think differently, speak differently, communicate differently,” Dutta-Koehler said. “And it always feels that [women] have to prove [themselves] more than most.”

Guided by their goal of creating a space for advancement, empowerment, and career-building, WUP held their inaugural event on March 5th. At the virtual event, a group of CPUA students and alumnae gathered to listen to a speech by Dr. Dutta-Koehler and connect with each other. Both Santa and Swar said it was a rousing success.

Santa shared that WUP’s next event will be a career development panel on March 26th where a professor and a planning alumna will give insight into their career journeys. Other upcoming events include a meditation event, a zumba session, and a wine and paint night.

“Without acknowledging the significance of personal and professional growth which go hand [in] hand, we cannot become the leaders we are aspiring to be in the future,” Swar added.

When asked if they have any advice for women at other institutions considering forming a group or collaborative, Swar and Santa said, “Just do it, representation matters. One of the most crucial things for us being in the urban planning field is [building] and creating a community that works for all. And we believe, this is one of those little pieces that can forge a new beginning of  building a stronger and hopeful community.”

Thanks to ambitious groups like WUP working to break down barriers to positions of power and influence, urban planning is slowly but surely becoming more equitable. Dr. Dutta-Koehler noted that like many sectors of our society, there’s still a long way to go, but change is possible with intentional effort. 

“I think it's been a long time coming, that we are recognizing women’s contributions and their caliber,” Dutta-Koehler said. “And I think this is a really great time for us to understand that women leaders have had equal success, but in different ways. If we want to see that kind of inclusiveness, if we want to see that kind of representation, we have to be intentional and strong and make it happen.”

From BUCPUA, Happy Women’s History Month! 

To learn more about WUP, read about their mission and executive board and follow them on Instagram @bu_wup for updates.

Emanne Khan, CAS '23

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Cohort of New Students Joins BUCPUA at Virtual Spring Orientation

(Boston, MA 1/21/21) Incoming BUCPUA program graduate students come together for a class picture over Zoom. (Photo by Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler)

On Thursday, January 21st, BUCPUA hosted its second fully virtual orientation session in program history. At the hour-long event, Director Dr. Madhu Dutta-Koehler and Program Manager Andrea Ciminelli were joined by a small cohort of new graduate students via Zoom for an official introduction to the CPUA community and its resources.

The Spring 2021 orientation session mirrored the format of the Fall 2020 session, which was also held on Zoom to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols. “Congratulations and welcome to the program,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler told the group at the start of the event. “We are absolutely delighted to have all of you.” 

Dr. Dutta-Koehler then moved on to a broad overview of the CPUA program and its history. The program was started in 1976 and is now home to about 100 students, with international students making up one quarter of the student body. Housed at the BU Metropolitan College, the CPUA program offers two graduate degrees, a Masters in City Planning and a Masters in Urban Affairs. It also offers a Bachelor of Science in Urban Affairs, as well as two graduate certificates in Urban Policy & Planning and Applied Sustainability. 

One of BUCPUA’s biggest strengths is its people, according to Dr. Dutta-Koehler. “Really the backbone shall we say of our program is our extraordinary community,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said, adding that program faculty are “so well-connected” and alumni are scattered across the globe. “We really pride ourselves on being a community first and being able to connect with each other with great ease.”

The application of knowledge gained in the classroom is another key facet of the CPUA community. “In our program, we are very much about ‘why does this learning matter?’” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said. “We really privilege practice and application and innovation above all else.”

Program Manager Andrea Ciminelli followed Dr. Dutta-Koehler’s introduction with a review of BU’s COVID-19 testing protocols for students visiting campus and the Learn from Anywhere system, which provides students with flexible options for attending class both in-person and remotely. Ciminelli also introduced the professional development opportunities available to students, including a website with job search tips. 

Dr. Dutta-Koehler wrapped up the logistics portion of the orientation session by reminding the group of important communications channels and academic advising resources.

Next, two current CPUA student representatives introduced the Urban Planning Association, a student-led organization that offers advice on classes, hosts discussions about relevant city planning topics, and holds monthly meetings and celebratory events.

The orientation session concluded with show-and-tell introductions. Each virtual attendee, including program leadership and faculty, took turns introducing themselves to the group and sharing a meaningful everyday object in their possession. At a time of physical and social separation, “we would love to get a glimpse into your world and your environment,” Dr. Dutta-Koehler said at the start of the day’s events. 

Before they parted ways, the attendees shared a diverse selection of objects, including plants, bicycles, and a camera.

Like Fall 2020, the Spring 2021 semester will undoubtedly present unique challenges and opportunities for overcoming them. The BUCPUA community is excited to welcome its new cohort of students and looks forward to everything they will accomplish in the months ahead.

Emanne Khan, CAS '23

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