UPD students take their skills to the streets

For students at the GSD, the summer represents a valuable chance to apply their skills and knowledge to challenges outside Gund Hall. Five UPD students–Jon Springfield, Margaret Scott, Jefferson Mao, Joyce Lee (all MUP ’15), and Jean You (MAUD/MDES ‘15)–are doing so through the GSD’s Community Service Fellowship Program.

CSFP offers students the opportunity to grapple with a wide range of community issues through internships at organizations that focus on urban planning and design–nonprofits, government agencies, and local community groups. For example, Springfield is mapping public resources for the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development. Scott is in DC helping to launch an Innovation of the Day database for HUD’s Office and International and Philanthropic Innovation, and Lee is researching post-disaster and post-conflict refugee settlements for the Affordable Housing Institute in Boston.

The projects have taught the Fellows a great deal about working within communities. Springfield said, “On one hand I have learned how active and interconnected all of the city agencies are but also how much seemingly basic things like coordination and sharing data could be improved in Boston.” Lee concurred that local capacity can be a limitation in community development work. “Different countries and municipalities have varying degrees of functionality. Housing affordability and market access are often not their top priority.”

There are benefits as well as challenges, and the Fellows have found their experiences rewarding. Scott highlighted the ability to learn from her “committed and enthusiastic coworkers.” “I’ve been deeply impressed by the people I’ve met who far exceed the typical stereotype of a limited or disengaged bureaucrat and are instead rethinking how federal government can best serve its constituency.”

Another advantage of the summer experience is that it helps students to clarify their goals and interests for future studies at the GSD. Lee plans to continue investigating instant cities, disaster planning, or resilience in the context of an independent study or thesis. Springfield expressed an enhanced interest in urban redevelopment. Said Springfield, “Learning about the city’s role in the disposition of public land and their strategies for building affordable housing and the limits that arise from decreasing federal funding and high costs of construction, has interested me in learning more about affordable housing finance.”

The Community Service Fellows will present their summer work at the GSD during a series of events during the fall semester–watch for the schedule.

Photo of Leyland Street community garden in Dorchester by Jon Springfield