Harvard Urban Planning Organization maps out year of activities

At the end of the 2013–2014 academic year, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s urban planning students met to elect officers for the Harvard Urban Planning Organization (HUPO), a club devoted to the academic and professional development of individuals who work with the built environment. Thirteen students were running for seven open positions. Faced with the prospect of turning away colleagues eager to contribute to enhancing academic life at the GSD, the planners decided to forgo elections and include all thirteen students in HUPO leadership discussions. As the new academic year enters its second month, the overflowing club is bringing unprecedented energy to its work.

The month of September was packed with HUPO-sponsored events. The organization spearheaded the GSD’s participation in PARK(ing) Day, a national event that raises awareness of the lack of open space in cities. The club also hosted an informal lunchtime discussion with the director of planning for Baghdad.

HUPO’s copresidents Ethan Lassiter and Kevin Gurley (both MUP ’15) have sought to expand opportunities for Harvard’s planning students to interact with designers, architects, landscape architects, and planners from other local universities. They recently started to implement this vision by organizing a mixer for Harvard, Tufts, and MIT planning students at Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville. Over 50 students attended this event.

HUPO’s leadership believes that such networking events are important because they raise the profile of planning at Harvard. Said Lassiter, “I hope to continue [. . .] broadcasting the impact urban planners can have within a school of design.” According to Lassiter, planners also have a great deal to learn from their peers: “The great part about planning within the GSD is seeing how we fit into and must interact with all other disciplines. I hope [that] by continuing to promote mutually beneficial events we can involve, educate, and learn from the other fields of study.”

Gurley is also looking forward to a series of events that HUPO has planned for the coming months. The club will be hosting brown bag lunches with and speeches from prominent community development and planning practitioners. Students hope to organize walking tours within Cambridge and Boston and are looking to organize an event that recognizes World Town Planning Day in November.

HUPO’s co-presidents imagine that these events will, ultimately, educate other members of the Harvard community about what it means to be a planner. Said Gurley, “Urban planning is present in all aspects of our lives. Planners are multitalented beings. From building a metro line, guiding development in a city, designing neighborhoods, working on policy for affordable housing, to improving our public school system, planners apply their expertise in a wide range of fields that help improve our lives and push our cities forward.”

Image courtesy My Tam Nguyen.