Jumanji?? How playing The Sims has become a reality…

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My love for the built environment started when I used to count how many portaloo’s I could see along every car journey, because I knew that for every portaloo, somewhere urban change would be happening!

Playing on ‘The Sims’ and with ‘City Toy Maps’ enhanced my curiosity for the built environment, which grew and grew until I was 16, when it became my ambition to study Town Planning at Cardiff University. Those three years at Cardiff provided me with a great insight into the basic policy’s and recommendations which Planning entails, teaching me about public consultations, transport networks, and sustainability.

Insightful field trips to Copenhagen and Hong Kong allowed me to further understand how cities across the world function in response to their local context and cultures, inspiring me to think more creatively about how the planning process in the UK could be modified to accommodate inevitable future change.

Perhaps most importantly, studying Town Planning opened my eyes into the world of Urban Design – a world of artistry! Individuality! Passion! Positive change! And… drawing pretty pictures! I therefore decided to undertake a Masters in Urban Design at Oxford Brookes University.

Over this past academic year, I have learnt the patience and teamwork required throughout a design process, from the initial brainstorming and concept drawings, to the final masterplan. Additionally, preparing and performing exhibitions, presentations, and in-depth debates has also boosted my confidence and has taught me how to approach a situation from multiple angles.

Meeting stakeholders face-to-face has been particularly influential – just one public exhibition brought me back to reality, realising that Urban Designers are developing for real people in a real world, where the streets and spaces which we create influence their lifestyles. Where will Amanda walk her dog every morning? Could Christian cycle to work with ease? Will Tom be able to safely stumble back from the pub on the weekend? Are they all happy, comfortable and truly proud of where they live?

Further field trips to developments such as Battersea Power Station in London and IJburg in Amsterdam have made me comprehend that in the face of climate change and an ever-increasing global population, we must question how we can ensure that citizens are living their healthiest and happiest lives, whilst also protecting and preserving our natural environment. As Urban Designers must consider both adaptation and mitigation strategies to live in harmony with nature whilst providing safe and secure homes for ourselves.

This has inspired me to write my dissertation ‘The sky is the limit: Intensifying Canning Town’. With this dissertation, I hope to encourage the regeneration of decaying brownfield land into higher-density and high-quality development, unlocking new ground surface for the public realm (including green and blue infrastructure) and for the provision of diverse economic opportunities.

I heavily believe in live/work/play lifestyles, and these more compact developments will reduce the likelihood of urban sprawl by repurposing existing townscapes into vibrant, mixed-use neighbourhoods which will reduce the dependency on vehicles and give nature a chance to thrive, as much as Hannah and Sarah love pink gin (*hint hint*).

My time at University has been life-changing – it has guided me towards my true passion which I discovered is not Planning, but Urban Design, and along the way I have met some incredible edge ladies. A ‘little’ global pandemic may have interfered with the last few months of my time at Oxford Brookes, but that hasn’t stopped me throwing myself at my studies and being as creative as I can be. After all, isn’t University ultimately about learning from mistakes, creating unique and innovative masterpieces, and making people smile with what you produce? Actually, forget University, that should just be how you live your whole life!

I am so grateful to be kick-starting my career in Urban Design with such an incredible company, I couldn’t have wished for a better team to support me through my final stage of education. Here is to the closing of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of a new one! Best not lose the bookmark…

Written by Astrid