To me Phenom Penh will always be a bit more than just another developing city, for it is here that I received some of the best news of the year, possibly the last 5 years.
During the months of January and February of this year I was bouncing around South East Asia bagging the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. It was somewhat of a Kontiki-esque experience; especially my time is Laos, which didn’t even amount to a week. These countries amounted to phase two of my Asia traveling master plan which was developed about this time last year. Phase one was completed in August, September and October of 2007 and included Yunnan, Tibet and substantial time in Nepal (which I write about later) and phase three is slated to begin in July 2008 and will cover Japan, Russia and then extending out of Asia into Europe terminating in London England. A flight to Canada will then satisfy my global circumnavigation goal.
Sometime before phase one of my traveling plan began in August 2007, I decided it was time to apply for graduate school, specifically urban planning programs. Why urban planning? Honestly, I can’t tell you exactly, how, when, where or why I arrived at this particular profession. The best answer I can give is that it just sort of appeared one day – most likely during one of my many internet sessions dredging the web in a desperate attempt to find a focus and purpose to my future. Urban planning surfaced and I found myself increasingly interested in this field and even more surprised that it matched many of my existing interests, career goals and experiences I had gathered while abroad. Prior to this revelation, my experience in this field was limited to a single introductory course in my fourth year at UVic. While the course was interesting in itself, at that time I was more in tune with the environmental side of geography as opposed to the urban angle.
This field just seemed like such a good fit. Firstly, it was a professional program, which means it contained an easily definable job description, unlike a very ambiguous Masters’ of Geography, to use an example. Being a professional program and field also implied a greater applied nature to the studies (theoretically, at least – we will see) and also a professional certification and acceptance into a professional organization. The appealed greatly to me because, basically put, I want a career.
Secondly, it appears to be very relevant. The world is urbanizing at an astonishing rate. There are more people living in cities now then there have ever been and this trend is going to continue around the world. Given this phenomenon, it is possible to state that a substantial amount of problems facing populations are going to occur in urban environments – this is where the majority of the problems are going to be. I have had strong convictions towards environmental protection for a good majority of my life and I feel that the best way to protect the natural environment is to create better, more sustainable, more efficient, more prosperous living conditions for people which in turn will reduce their impact on surrounding landscapes…and most people will be living in cities.
Third – It is highly probable that I will end up working in small-town Canada reviewing zoning laws for the rest of my life. I really don’t want to do this, but I recognize that the most jobs in urban planning will probably take you down this route. But, as mentioned in previously, the entire world is urbanizing. I’ve had the opportunity to live and experience some of the most rapidly developing cities in the world and…wow…talk about opportunities….if one just plays their card right.
Those are some thoughts off the top of my head.
After returning to Nanjing in Oct 07 I hunkered down for the next three months, hijacked my sisters SFU library account and read random journal articles about planning like it was going out of style. I had no idea what I was suppose to be reading – I just searched for anything new, anything that said ‘review’ anything that said ‘introduction’. I just needed a feel for what was going on in this field. Luckily for me, urban planning is a special field that encourages and promotes cross-disciplinary study and apparently in many cases, prefer applicants coming from different academic and professional backgrounds.
I was thrilled about that as it provided a convenient hole with which I could use to exploit my non-urban related work experiences in China.
The key to a successful application has always been the statement of purpose. Mine took 3 months to write. I had no idea what I was doing so I hit Google hard, searching statement of purpose templates, examples, samples…anything that could give me an idea of what one of these things should look like. I read dozens, most of which were crap samples but some were actually originals submitted by applicants for online review on BBS’s and message boards. I slowly developed some kind of feel of how a statement should sound and feel. Starbucks was a mighty friend and together we managed pound out the following sometime in early January (specific to McGill)
For several years after I graduated from the University of Victoria I lived in Nanjing, a rapidly expanding and modernizing city of six and half million residents on the banks of the Yangtze river in China’s Jiangsu Province. What struck me immediately upon my arrival in this place was the apparent constant state of flux within the city – the endless construction, renovation and rehabilitation. The transformation of an urban fabric long neglected into a prosperous regional hub generating a higher quality of life for many. It was also difficult for me to comprehend the possibility of so many people living in such a confined spatial area, yet alone the multitudes of challenges, such as a massively increasing fossil fuel dependency, that need to be met and overcome. For someone who grew up in the isolation, emptiness and relative calm of Northern British Columbia, such densities and rapid development instilled a feeling of claustrophobia and at times, helplessness; however, it also drew my attention and interest closer to how urban landscapes function and their impacts on society, the economy and the natural environment.
Living and traveling abroad has led me to the conclusion that cities and urban environments are the primary and fastest growing form of human settlement, which has in turn has resulted in my belief that urban landscapes represent one of the largest pools of problems and challenges facing the world in the 21st century. Within these are many that have global implications that affect all of us such as massive increases in automobile use, energy consumption and deforestation are leading to changes in global climate, and income disparity and spatial segregation between the haves and have-nots threatens the stability that is required for healthy economic, social and environmental stability. I also firmly believe that urban environments will, at the same time, provide one of the largest pools of opportunity for in solving these problems. My goal is to improve the built environment in ways that can address these problems, especially issues related to fossil fuel dependency, while providing people with thriving, safe, healthy, livable and affordable communities for work, play and leisure. I am primarily interested in walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods, community energy planning, new urbanist thought, sustainable transportation modes, and cities within the developing world. I believe that fossil fuel dependence is one the primary problems that needs to be addressed in communities now, and in the coming years. I am keenly interested in how planning theories and practice can help in this matter. I believe in reaching planning goals through market based decisions (working with government incentives and assistance) and judge that such goals can be met when people are provided with an abundant array of living and transportation options while ensuring that they pay for the full cost of their choices.
Raised in a resource-dependent community, I was exposed to and became interested in the notion of sustainability at an early age. I followed up on this with a degree in geography which developed and honed not only my critical thinking skills but also my ability to think spatially, globally and generally. Courses in land-use, resource management and city planning have provided me with a solid foundation with which to understand further planning theories, concepts and issues.
While my professional experience within urban planning is limited, I believe that my time living within a high density, walkable community has provided me with an appreciation what journalist Anthony Flint refers to as “the right sized life” in which it is possible to actively participate in a mixed use environment by walking to a corner store, restaurant or coffee shop, utilizing efficient transit systems on a daily basis and grasping how a well designed and located city park can be just as good as a large backyard. I feel that an understanding and comprehension of this lifestyle is crucial to being both an effective student and professional of urban planning.
The Masters of Planning degree at McGill interlocks well with my career goals, academic interests and past experiences. I am keen on a program that provides me with an applicable, professional and a good combination of practical and theoretical instruction which can prepare me for a planning career in either the public or private sectors. As I feel that learning is enhanced by a diverse student and teaching body as well as a global perspective, I am drawn to the numerous links the School maintains with foreign institutions and the international character of Montreal. I am also interested in the School’s education approach of involving students in local and ‘real world’ projects. I strongly believe that local instruction and participation combined with an international outlook is essential for a professional operating in a globalized world.
I was lucky enough to have wonderful and understanding referees in the form of Paul Clark, a marketing professor at TRU and an old China hand who I met in my last month of study at UVic. Denise McGowan, my employer during my forestry days and my current boss, William Angliss China Director Garry Dick former Dean of Business Studies at the William Angliss Institute (Melbourne).
I pulled together applications for Queen’s, McGill, Dalhousie, Calgary and Waterloo. The day after I UPS’d them, I headed off to South East Asia. In my eyes, receiving and acceptance to any one of these schools was a complete shot in the dark. I didn’t have the background, I didn’t have the experience, and I barely had the GPA.
Early February – Phenom Penh. I receive an email from my first choice program (given its reputation and more importantly, its Asia focus) Queens University – accepted, first round.
Two weeks later I was accepted into the program at McGill, apparently first round as well.
I also received an entrance scholarship to Queens.
Bryan Crosby Queens ’10
It is May, and I still don’t really know what to say. It is still a little hard to believe. I didn’t think I could spin my time in Asia, I didn’t think my references would be adequate (given that I didn’t include a single professor). Now I’m worried about being able to hack it given that students entering programs at Queen’s have the highest average GPA in all of Canada – I’ve been out of school for four years – I haven’t written anything academic since my last year at UVic – the last theoretical discussion in a classroom environment I had was also four years ago.
Four years in Asia is coming to a close…