Home Away From Athens

It’s been a while since my last post. Over the past week I’ve set aside times in which I would write, but was unsuccessful at doing so. I guess you can say I’m still adjusting to life in Edinburgh, despite my love and relative familiarization with the city. I just want to stress early on in this blog how fortunate I am to have hopped on board the City and the Environment study abroad program past the application
deadline. And it was an experience that nearly didn’t happen at all. Some things are just meant to be, and I was meant to be here now. I’ve acquired a whole new appreciation for all the hard work that urban planners and great thinkers of the past have done for humanity. I’ve also gained insight into the darker incentives for so-called progress that have left our planet in a state of peril. Most importantly,
I’ve gained a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for who I am as an individual. And I want to make this world a better place, in whatever way that I can.

Over the course of the past three weeks I’ve completed the History of Edinburgh course, taught by the highly distinguishable Dr. Richard Rodger, here at the University of Edinburgh. The course centered on the evolution of the city over the centuries into the beautiful, vibrant, and environmentally friendly
city that it is today. The course was concluded this past Thursday with student presentations tracking the development of specific regions of the city. My group focused on the coastal region of Leith, which has had its share of ups and downs over the centuries, but is currently on the gradual track toward an identity of viable residential and commercial power. Thursday afternoon marked the beginning of the
City and the Environment portion of the program, which covers the relationship that we humans have had with the environment as we’ve made the move from rural to urban and from urban to suburban sprawl.

Dr. Buckley, the program director and course professor, has blended classroom instruction with class trips that have helped us appreciate those who make life as comfortable as we know it. While we’ve gathered staggering figures about the impact that human migration patterns have had on the environment, we’ve begun to see with our own eyes the work that goes into providing what we’ve accepted as “basic necessities” such as safe drinking water to the average city dweller. Today’s visit to the water treatment plant here in Edinburgh was the first of many trips to specific sites that highlight the infrastructure we take for granted every day. As an MPA student considering urban planning as a career path, these experiences are about as ideal as they can get.

But life outside the classroom has been just as educational. Working with the Cockburn Association, and witnessing the way an urban planning civic trust works in the real world, has been an absolute delight. It also helps that Marion Williams, the trust’s director, is a strong and intelligent human being with a genuine love for the city and for its preservation as a world heritage site. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a development site for an important public space in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. With the Cockburn Association’s approval, developers have renovated a beautiful space on George Street, which has served the city for centuries as a venue for weddings, political forums, and other public events. I’ve sat in on a cases committee meeting, in which some of the city’s most accomplished architects and the Cockburn Association’s board members reviewed applications for new developments or renovations to the area. Listening in to their discussion, I was awestruck at the elevated level of knowledge of urban planning, architecture, history, geography, and countless other fields that was matched with an equal level of humility. I wanted to stand up and applaud everyone in the room once the meeting was adjourned, but instead I just sat there – jaw dropped. In addition, I’ve provided my thoughts on the marketing campaign for the trust’s upcoming Doors Open Day, which is a day in September dedicated to commemorating Edinburgh’s cultural heritage. Locations that generally charge a fee to enter or are closed off to tourists and locals will be free to all those who wish to learn more about the city. I’ve also been asked to write up a piece for the trust’s publication, speaking of my experience in the city as a student and temporary resident. What my next task will be I can only speculate, but I can imagine it will be just as interesting and informative as the last ones. Now happy that I have reflected on some of my experiences so far, I need to move on to the reading due tomorrow morning. Here’s to another day at my home away from Athens!

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