By William Herzog, in collaboration with Cities Professors Jennifer Hurley and Gary McDonogh
Over thirty students, professors, alumnae/ni, and even a parent of a prospective student gathered on the morning of Saturday, April 8 in Thomas Great Hall to discuss the Growth and Structure of Cities department and its alignment for the future. Titled the “Future of Cities” Department Workshop, participants grappled with the question, “How can the Cities Department build on past success to meet current and future challenges?”
As the department brings in two tenure-track professors over the next two years, as well as adjusts to evolving student interests and urban challenges, students in the Cities course “Public Participation in Policy & Planning” seized the opportunity to put their learning into action, holding their own public workshop and gathering feedback. Mentored by city planner and professor Jennifer Hurley (BMC ‘93), the workshop utilized the practices of Open Space Technology. In the workshop introduction, Hurley explained, “[Open Space Technology] was created by Harrison Owen, who thought the best parts of conferences are usually the coffee breaks, where you can talk about the topics you care most about.” Open Space Technology transforms the agenda into one big coffee break, allowing for those fruitful conversations to be the center of the discussion.
Lacking a formal agenda or speakers, participants created their own topics of discussion based on their driving interest, then formally separated into smaller discussion groups, taking notes on each topic.
From ideas for a GIS software “intensive” over Fall break to a required course on sustainable urbanism, participants brought their biggest dreams to the discussion for feedback and development with their peers. Participants overwhelmingly enjoyed the format, with over 75% of participants responding in an exit survey that they “strongly agree” the workshop was a good use of their time, and the entire remaining participants responding “agree.”
Nicky Rhodes ‘19, a Cities major at Haverford College, thought the workshop reinforced his understanding of the department’s importance, stating that the department “has a lot of potential and many diverse areas to grow, especially in such a politically, socially and environmentally complicated time.” Despite the format being unconventional, he emphasized the workshop “felt very well organized.”
Victoria Garner ‘19, a major at Bryn Mawr College, thought that it was as much a community-building exercise as it was a feedback session. “The workshop reinforced my love for the Cities major not only as an academic major but as a community,” Garner reflected. “I especially loved the discussion on Life After Cities and how clear it was that everyone wants to actively continue to support each other.”
The workshop ended with a barbecue lunch in the Thomas Great Hall cloisters, but the discussions were virtually indistinguishable, as participants continued building the discussions and relationships throughout the meal. Students in Hurley’s seminar are compiling a report on the discussions and feedback, which will be presented to department chair Gary McDonogh for review and strategic implementation.
Photo by Jennifer Hurley