Sunday 10 August 2014

Reflection by Carolyn Koh Hui Xin of Nanyang Girls High School

This urban planning experience, though rigorous, has been very enriching for me. When we were in the process of preparing the write up and report, I often felt that I was missing up on relaxation or study time, but on hindsight, the competition was never a waste of time. It has taught me a lot about how building a city works, about how countries like Singapore were built, and it has made me appreciate the amount of planning and resources that go into running and developing a city.

Especially students in Singapore; I get the feeling that all we know is simply to study, then regurgitate memorized facts without any critical thinking, and that we are all just living in our small bubbles, unconcerned with anything else. Then, when we go out into the "real world", we get a shock, because we expect things to be nicely ordered and prepared for them. This was especially highlighted to me when we met one judge of our prototype. Event though she seemed scary, I appreciated her questions because she was making us think deeper instead if simply accepting the things around us. (I will touch on the things I learnt from meeting people through this competition later) But in the real world, nothing is ever that simple, because there are so many things to take into consideration. In the case of urban planning, one has to consider budget, efficiency, environment, culture, coordination and others.

Planning a city is huge undertaking and seems overwhelming when seen as a whole, even when broken down into parts, the process still has to be coordinated. When we were crafting our solutions to Myanmar's "problems", we did not know where to start, and I guess I was expecting some kind of guideline that was more substantial than commercial, heritage and transport, because there were so many systems implemented across the world and we didn't know how to choose one that was most suited to Yangon. Not being able to truly understand the situation there also made our task a lot harder. And this is where our lesson in decision making comes in.

You can't expect life to keep giving you guidelines and hints on how to tackle things. Sometimes, when you are not sure how to continue because of the sheer amount of things you have to consider, you just have to make an intelligent decision and hope things turn out for the best. At least that's better than simply thinking and not acting. You have to make good decisions quickly if you want to make any progress at all, because everything is interlinked. Another issue was considering the people. As Myanmar is a very cultural and religiously oriented country, simply coming in and implementing our ideas without consulting any local about it seemed naive and rude. We actually considered it when we were doing the report but we had no idea what to do about it, so in the end we largely ignored that problem, only for it to be brought up again by the judge I was talking about earlier. I felt that we could have done more in depth research into that.

Apart from the planning process, meeting the professionals at the finals and the World City Summit also taught me a lot. Here are the people who do urban planning as their job, and they gave us many insights, many of which forced us to question things rather than accept them. We were rather proud of our bicycle road system, but one of the delegates from Australia suggested having concrete walls between the bicycle and normal roads for added safety. Many of them taught us to constantly seek improvement, rather than simply be content with what we have.

For me, this urban planning journey has taught me more about the soft skills than the knowledge of planning a city, because this information is easily available on the internet. I feel this was a great value-add to our curriculum, and despite its time consuming nature, it is a great eye opener, and, since learning should merely be restricted to a dictated curriculum, I would strongly recommend this to the juniors. I feel that this is especially important in Nanyang as I feel that sometimes we are so consumed with our grades that we forget that learning is largely outside the textbook.

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