My big takeaway from my first day of classes last week, other than wow I can’t believe I’m here yayayayay was the realization that I don’t have a succinct way to describe my planning interests.

Let me first clarify something. I don’t think that being able to “succinctly” or “articulately” describe my passion differentiates me in any negative way from my classmates. We’re all first year students, and we’ve all had different pathways to planning, to this degree, and to Carolina.  We speak different languages (literally) and use different vocabularies that reflect our life experience. So, some of us are going to come across as a little more “polished” than others. I use these words in quotes because they are reductive, relative terms based on perceptions, and they don’t form great basis for judging ourselves or others.

Okay, now back to my desire to be succinct and articulate.

For years, as I was considering graduate school for planning, I found myself telling people “I just love transit.” (True.) Then it evolved to something like “I don’t have a car, and I just think that’s really important, you know? Cars are killing us.” (Also true, but not very clear as to what should be done about that.) And then it morphed to “I’m going to graduate school to study transportation policy and planning.” (Bingo! But still very high level.)

Now that I’m here, with exciting and diverse areas of focus all around me, I find myself getting pulled in so many directions. Land use! Social equity! Climate change impacts! It’s okay to be interested in everything. That’s what school is for. But I also think it’s important to reflect on why I became interested in planning, why I came to this program, and what impact I’m hoping to make on the world when I leave.

So here goes:

  • Equity. I want to learn more about why inequality exists and what can be done to mitigate it and prevent it entirely, across the entire planning spectrum (housing, transportation, land use, economic development, etc.).
  • Pedestrian safety. I had a bit of a lightning-bolt moment last week that safety is at the root of everything I’ve been geeking about over the past few years. It probably warrants its own post. Every time I cringe about beg buttons or yell at someone for rolling through a crosswalk without stopping or feel unsafe walking alongside large buildings with blank walls, it’s because there’s a safety issue at hand.
  • Transportation as a civil right. I need to refine this one a bit more, but essentially I believe that having access to where you need to go is a fundamental human right, and that unless we stop basing that on personally-owned single-occupancy vehicle trips, our health and our economy and our planet are in trouble.

Those are my first-week thoughts. I’ll keep refining my elevator speech (you can take the girl out of consulting…) and learning as much as I can, and of course sharing it here!

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