Student commentary: What is Urban Studies and Planning?

Master student Yana Pavlova has studied in the USP Master's Programme for two semesters. She has dove into urban studies and planning from various perspectives introduced by teachers from different disciplines. Here Yana ponders, what is urban planning actually?

Text by Nyurguyana Pavlova, USP master student in Architecture, Aalto University.

The first two semesters at USP has ended and I already know how to plan a perfect city.

In case if somebody does not know what urban planning consists of, I can briefly explain. Seriously, planning is not a big deal after all, I am sure that in near future cities will do it by themselves.

1. Size

First of all, we know that cities are usually large. Basically when several villages become large enough, they grow into each other and form a town, or it might be one village that got fat, expanded and swallowed nearby settlements. Same thing happens with towns, they grow and evolve into cities. Furthermore, cities have a next evolution species type as well, called megacity. I do not know who created that term, it is pretty self explanatory, maybe urban scientists had an Open Day for preschoolers while thinking of the name ‘megacity’. On a similar note, somebody very into dinosaurs had thought of the term ‘megalopolis’.

2. Complexity

When there are so much stuff thrown into one place we come to the next point. Cities are complicated. One would say that their urban fabric is transcendental and it is impossible to trace neither its boundaries nor origins, but being honest, I am never sure what these words mean, so let's say there are lots of things: and here is the main struggle. Nobody knows exactly how many things there are, but brave urban scientists are currently working hard on it. In their special scientific way, they sort everything interesting into scientific categories. These categories are sometimes furiously unrelated to each other, like flathead screwdriver and tea ceremony, but all of them have something urban to them.

Literally, science was invented by humans and for humans, mainly about human surroundings. And almost half of all people live in urban environment (and my guess would be that most scientists live in urban environment), so it is not strange that many scientific fields will become applicable once you add the word urban in front of them (except for urban quantum mechanics and such, basic universe realm laws tend not to change in miniscule scales such as planetary).

3. Paradigm

Here we find ourselves at the third point. City planners get lost at such large information avalanches. And they find salvation in theories which they create by themselves. Those ideas work pretty well in theory, but often prove insufficient in practice. Each new wave of planners has some fixation, like last century modernists. They were hopeless technocrats and had put it all into calculations of standard square meter of standard space standard potential and precise drawings of standard cities. Of course they had reached great standard results, but towards the end of the century citizens chose not to turn into fine standard urban populations, where economic crises did not help. Environmental did neither. So nowadays, urban planners have to also bear in mind cultural diversity and opinions of fellow citizens, who happened to live nearby, but traditionally have less authority in actual planning process.

Image by Yana Pavlova

There are more random details and ‘useful’ features in urban design, then in this kiosk. Which is overflown with touristic aspirations to find the whole city character in a small manufactured piece of plastic.

Collaboration is key

All in all, the situation might seem pretty hopeless of planners running between scientists with their complex systems, physical world restrains, theories, people's power, government’s power and deadlines. Some might even give up and devote themselves to ideals and creation of better world. But.

The main thing I came to realise during the last 10 months was not the vast broadness of the subject, but the amount of professionals in their fields. Maybe they don’t know everything, have patches of incompetence, overall imperfect people, but with the certain amount of friendly questions, fierce communication, negotiation and so, one can get closer to a perfect city.

I was dishonest in the beginning, I am not even close to planning a city, and nobody is close to it on their own, and I will say a cliche now. Together we are all faster, higher, stronger, and the only way to deal with urban complexity is to use all the complexity of human binding. So let’s cheer communication and achieve common goals!

USP monkey by Yana Pavlova