Course in social planning tackles food security in the city's north end
By Meredith Dault, Senior Communications Officer
For Leela Viswanathan, urban planning is about a lot more than designing cities and determining land use – it’s also about people. That’s what Dr. Viswanathan, an assistant professor in the School of Urban and Region Planning, seeks to impart to the students who take her graduate level course in social planning. A community service learning course, SURP 871 requires students to do collaborative research with groups beyond the campus periphery.
For the second year in a row, Dr. Viswanathan has had her class collaborate with Rev. Christine Williams of the Good Shepherd Mission. Over the course of the term, the first and second year graduate students have grappled with the issue of food security in Kingston’s north end, where the Mission is based. Working in small groups, the students met with community members and service providers to better understand the issues related to food security, including the social, cultural and physical barriers that keep people from being able to access to nutritious and affordable food.
“Our students are learning to become urban planning experts, but they need to realize that there are always diverse points of view that need to be factored in when you are trying to solve a complex problem like food security,” explains Dr. Viswanathan. “In this course, we really try to understand the issues from the standpoint of the people who live in these communities, and not exclusively from the ‘expert’ standpoint.”
Student Samantha Romlewski (MPL ‘15) and her group focused on the link between generational poverty and the role food insecurity plays in perpetuating that cycle, as well as how the education system can help break it. “It was really inspiring to see how dedicated people are in this community,” she says. “And as first year students coming in, it’s a great thing to be able to work in the community and see a different side of planning. It’s really given us another perspective.”
“A lot of the time you read something in a book but you don’t retain it,” agreed student Anthony Fotino (MPL ‘15), who looked at the physical barriers limiting access to food, from the location of supermarkets, to the role public transit plays in connecting people to areas where they can buy it. “This is an experience that will stick with us forever. It has given us a chance to try actually try planning in the community.”
“It’s been really humbling,” says Jessica Jiang (MPL ‘15). “This course allowed us to remember that when we’re working, we aren’t just planning with our aesthetics in mind. We’re planning for real people.”
The students will be presenting their research and conclusions to the public on Monday, Nov. 25 from 3:00-5:00pm in room 554, Robert Sutherland Hall. All are welcome.