University of California – Berkeley – Urban Planning Graduate Program Sample Essay
The late afternoon sunshine seeped through the cracks in the garage as I situated myself among piles of boxes, old clothes and a heap of power-tools. It was my sophomore year in college at UC — San Diego, and I had come home for the weekend to find some newspaper articles for a paper on downtown redevelopment for my urban studies class. Shuffling through the piles of clippings, I found one of the articles I had been searching for. The edges were bent, and the newspaper had faded to an ivory-yellow, but the headline still boldly read: “A Last Farewell to Donnelly’s.” Donnelly’s was the bar my grandfather owned in Iowa City for 40 years until the mid 1970s, when a downtown redevelopment project forced the bar to be shut down. To those who frequented it, the bar was more than a place to go to relax on a Saturday evening. It was a citizen of the city — as important a part of the community as anyone who lived there. I knew then, staring at the worn photograph and article, that planning was my passion.
As a history major and an urban studies and planning minor at UCSD, I began to learn about the history and theory of cities. In addition, I took many classes relating to the growth and change of cities and communities through time. Specifically, a course on the history of Los Angeles and another on San Diego community research inspired my imagination about the impact that a planner can have on a community.
After graduating from UCSD, I knew that there was more to learn. I took an internship working on community planning in La Jolla, California. Ever since then, I have been working with a planner from the neighborhood, coordinating a task force of community members to address traffic and safety issues. Our goal was to identify the principal traffic issues in the neighborhood and design a plan for Main Street. Our plan utilizes traffic-calming techniques to create a safer and more pedestrian-oriented area. This internship has provided me with real-world experience that I could not have acquired in any of my courses at UCSD, along with the opportunity to take a project from the planning stages to construction.
From my experiences during my undergraduate years and subsequently in La Jolla, I have found that my main field of interest revolves around the built environment. Understanding the relationship between the built environment and land use plays a critical role in the design process. The historical legacy of buildings — as well as their inherent character — is often overlooked in the desire to renovate and revitalize an area. I believe there is a way to design a built environment that incorporates new development while preserving the history and character of the city or community. I envision myself playing an important role in shaping cities and communities, and I look forward to the opportunity to provide the expertise that helps bridge differing interests and fields.
The Master of Planning program at Berkeley will provide me with the knowledge I seek to bring my goals to fruition. Moreover, the specific concentrations within the program will allow me the opportunity to pursue my own research interests. The link between land use planning and the built environment is one I am eager to pursue. I look forward to the opportunity at Berkeley to work with an outside client, conduct research, and develop a plan.
I often think back to the day in my family’s garage when I discovered the article on my grandfather’s old bar. Donnelly’s reminds me that buildings and the structure of communities are worth much more than the bricks and mortar that make them up. They are the fabric of our history, linking the past to the present and the present to the future. It is my hope that I can help weave that fabric and that the Master of Planning program at Berkeley will give me the skills to do so.
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