Name: Salmaan Khan
Program: MUP 2013
Hometown: Port Washington, NY
Undergraduate school/major: Fordham University, History
What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?
I spent a few years working for the Friends of the High Line in New York before taking a leave of absence to work for the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?
I’ve always had a passion for history, particularly of urban spaces. I was a history major in college, and learning about the mistakes and successes of post-industrial American cities made me want to help guide the future of these places. I also saw planning as a very nebulous field, one that I could shape to my own personal interests
What made you decide to come to the GSD?
I was excited by the prospect of working with many of the professors at the GSD, and the facilities, particularly the trays, seemed like a great environment to study planning.
What was your impression of Harvard and the GSD before you came?
My impression of Harvard was colored almost entirely by the movie The Social Network, so it looked like fun. As for the GSD, I had very little understanding of what it would be. I had heard most about studio, which I admit I didn’t fully understand. The courses seemed very exciting to me, but after a few years out of undergrad, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from them.
How has your impression changed since coming to the GSD?
There’s a culture of collaboration that connects the different programs in a way I wasn’t expecting. Just being able to be around architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and other planners in the trays [large open class areas] creates a much more engaging atmosphere than I was expecting. Professors are always around to talk to students, and having everyone in the same building makes a significant difference in terms of the culture of the school. I also never expected to spend as much time in Gund as I do.
Are you involved in any student groups? What have you gained from the experience?
I’ve been involved with the Harvard Urban Planning Organization (HUPO) which, according to the Washington Post, is “one of the greatest student-run organizations in the world.” It’s a great way to meet students from other programs, other schools, and professional planners. It’s also helped me to guide the direction of the program in a way that benefited myself and my cohort.
Are you writing a thesis? What is your topic and why did you choose it?
I’m writing a thesis exploring the effectiveness of apps, websites, crowd-sourcing, and other technologies on city planning. I’d like to understand how effect the use of these new solutions actually are, and how they can be used to more effectively respond to the needs of cities around the country.
What has been your favorite class or project? Why?
History and Theory of Urban Interventions and Quantitative Research Methods were two of my favorite courses. Having never taken a theory course before, I was happy to get a more nuanced understanding of what it is I’m trying to do as a planner. Quantitative research methods provided the most applicable skill I think I have learned at the GSD so far, by teaching statistics as it applies to urban planning.
What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?
I spent my summer working on a few things. I worked primarily with the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure (www.zofnass.org), an organization devoted to developing methods and tools that quantify sustainability for infrastructure, similar to what LEED currently does for buildings. I’ve also been working with A Better City (www.abettercity.org) helping to develop their online presence and creating an online community for organizations taking part in their “Challenge for Sustainability” which helps organizations in Boston increase energy efficiency, reduce resource consumption, decrease solid waste, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.