This summer, I made it a goal to improve myself as a well-rounded person. As such, I began taking an Edx Online Class in Urban Planning. I’ve learned several interesting bits of information, and a few stood out to me and made me think about what I was doing:
- The heterogeneity of slums within the same city. The first step towards global awareness is the realization that others don’t have it as well as you do. My mistake, prior to taking this class, was believing that this was the only necessary realization. I learned from this class that others don’t have it as well as you do in different ways from each other and different from what you anticipated. For example, one of the modules mentioned that two slums in a city, one in the inner city and another near the outside, may respond differently and have different kinds of poverty. In the inner slums, where migrants stay and leave, and where jobs and opportunity are, social networks are weak (because everyone needs to be cut-throat and people are leaving all the time). This amounts to a social poverty. In outer slums, people are even worse off due to distance from jobs and opportunities, but thrive on social connections with each other to maintain an adequate standard of living.
- The concept of diversity. When I was writing my essay for Morrill Scholars in during my senior year, I related the ethnic diversity that I experienced growing up where I did. I was surprised when I did not get the Scholarship, because the ethnic diversity in my school had shaped me, and the fact that I couldn’t relay that meant a flaw on my part. I knew there were different kinds of diversity at that time, but I chose to focus on ethnic diversity. I learned from this course that even the simple act of ignoring other kinds of diversity can have far-reaching ramifications. For example, in Toronto, the idea of diversity is lauded and praised. However, this is strictly with regards to “economic-boosting” diversity. There are people who suffer from mental disabilities, or people without homes who can be factored into the diversity argument in terms of socioeconomic diversity, yet because they are seen as a burden to the city, they are often found on the outskirts, away from the mainstream, and are ignored in favor of “ethnic diversity”.
- It’s important not to become a victim of the fleeting nature of news stories. There was a time period where Syrian refugees settling in other countries was the focus of the news. However, that isn’t covered as much despite the persistence of the problem. This course introduced as a model the Za’atari camp in Jordan, which formed as a result of the Syrian exodus, yet is now growing into a permanent settlement. Had I been asked prior to this course, but still recently, about how living conditions were in this camp, I would have presumed tents and rations. However, these tents have been converted to cabins over the last few years, and a happier life seems to have been attained beyond mere rations. Referencing the first point, it’s not enough to recognize that the world is complex. It’s essential to dig into the “nitty-gritty” of that complexity, because then you shave off another layer of ignorance.