By Rose Cerulli
This fall, the Stanford Human Cities Initiative will feature projects ranging from local Bay Area neighborhoods to the global UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador at its Human Cities Expo. The Human Cities Initiative is a program housed in the urban studies department, offering an innovative new approach to urban planning and giving students the tools they need to solve the pressing global problems of the modern world.
Now in its fourth year, the initiative is a revolutionary project envisioned by Stanford faculty in order to address issues in a world where the majority of the population lives in urban areas. Students consider questions of policy, technology, sustainability and culture, considering every aspect of urban life as they design future-focused models. The initiative emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration and experiential learning.
Taking learning beyond the classroom and into the real world, the initiative has a special studio in Beijing. There, Stanford students have the unique opportunity to work alongside peers from Tsinghua University. Together, they conduct field research in city planning. This hands-on experience gives students invaluable insight into urban issues, as they are able to apply policy directly to real-world problems.
Urban studies lecturer and the initiative’s co-founder Deland Chan ’07 M.A. ’07 said that the program was crafted around a “human-centered approach” to city-planning. To this end, students consider policy and design proposals that will help cities become places where people can not only work and live, but also thrive and connect.
Chan explained that one of the goals of the initiative is to “put people back at the core of the conversation.”
The Human Cities Initiative is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Just as modern cities are made up of a mix of cultures and perspectives, the Human Cities Initiative brings together a wide range of Stanford students and scholars. The initiative is open to undergraduate and graduate students of all majors. History faculty join forces with engineering faculty, design majors work with art students, and the civil and environmental engineering department works with Stanford Arts. The Stanford team has also connected with off-campus corporations across the San Francisco Bay Area.
“This is as much about the process of decision-making in designing our cities as it is about technological solutions,” Chan said.
Coursework also emphasizes interdisciplinary learning. Instead of working within a narrow sphere of technical issues, students take classes that explore the intersection of multiple fields. While a single approach might leave out important aspects of life in an urban center, this interdisciplinary focus allows for the inclusion of many perspectives and a multi-dimensional analysis. Coursework explores four pillars of sustainability: environmental quality, economic vitality, social equity and cultural continuity.
“We learned the importance of respecting local context while working with multinational teams and projects,” said Sneha Ayyagari ’17, a student in the class majoring in environmental systems engineering.
The initiative is revolutionary in that redefines what it means to be a city-planner. Chan states that the ideal designer of future fields will not simply be an expert in a single field, but rather “a new global citizen … able to navigate across disciplines, across cultures.”