Sustainable Urban Planning Practices: Becca Finkes

My STEP funding helped me study sustainable urbanism in Europe for a whole MONTH. The trip was through the Knowlton Sustainable Urban Planning Practices program which traveled to Copenhagen, Berlin, and Barcelona. The study abroad program focused on environmentally, economically, and socially friendly planning practices in these innovative European cities. 

This trip made me really grow in a way that I wasn’t able to back home. I was forced out of my comfort zone, which I admittedly didn’t like at first. Most European restaurants-at least all that I visited- do not serve Kraft mac n cheese, my mom was in an entirely different time zone, and I don’t speak more than maybe 3 phrases in any language other than English. I won’t lie, this past month was really hard. Regardless, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I had so much fun adventuring in the cities we visited. Copenhagen’s winding pedestrian streets, Berlin’s historical preservation, Barcelona’s chaotic city center- it all came together to define one of the most incredible months of my life. The diversity I was exposed to on a daily basis was so humbling in the sense that it reminded me that it isn’t such a small world after all. There is so much to see and learn and understand, and it’s so easy to forget that. From speaking to an Gambian refugee we ran into at a park in Berlin about his experiences and hardships to the freedom I felt biking around Copenhagen with almost literally no care in the world, this trip was surreal. I’m still thinking, did that really happen?

I learned about successful spaces by being in them and seeing firsthand what they look like, what they feel like- I finally truly understand what it means to plan for people. I heard from practicing professionals what I can do with a career in city planning to make that positive impact that drew me towards planning as a major in the first place. I saw some incredible architecture, and climbed a HUGE mountain. I tried a couple of new foods, and learned how to ask “Can I pet your dog” in Spanish. I found comfort in the time I was able to explore in my own, and learned to appreciate being alone. I also learned a lot about being a leader- which is definitely a lot more difficult being in another country.

This trip was so much more than I ever could have imagined. It equipped me with invaluable knowledge and skill sets. My critical analysis of public spaces in these cities can be cross referenced with my experiences in cities in the United States, which will provide me with a distinct perspective in my future career. The self-confidence and adaptability that came with a month of traveling in an entirely foreign space with strangers has already positively impacted me personally. I learned A LOT that I could have never read in a book. City planning is something I am very passionate about, and the month long immersion in it was so good to me. I am so thankful for what this month taught me- about planning and myself. I know it will be a lasting impact I carry with me the rest of my life.