Sarah Bingham, M.PL. '13

Urban & Regional Planning

An experiment in planning & tanning: Queen's Alum Sarah Bingham's Australian Adventure

by Christine Elie (August 2012)

photo of Sarah Bingham with a sleepy koala
Sarah Bingham gets close to a very sleepy koala

In her final semester at Queen’s University, Sarah Bingham embarked on a four-month exchange to the University of Western Australia. Taking classes at the Australian Urban Design Research Centre, Sarah says “the thought of studying only urban design for four months at the university where my father did his architecture degree became more and more appealing.”

“I developed design skills in an environment that lived and breathed design!” Reflecting on her exchange to Perth, Australia, Sarah says her experience helped her develop and refine her understanding of urban and regional planning, “not only living and attending university in a different country with a different culture, but also taking design courses from an institution that is renowned for its design in that part of the world.”

Sarah’s interest and exposure to urban planning originated in her father’s architectural firm in Vancouver, where she worked during the summers when she was in high school. Her journey to urban and regional planning began at the University of Toronto, where she completed an honours B.A. in Sociology, minoring in Political Science and Spanish. After completing her degree, she spent two years travelling and working. During this time, she worked for a term as Student Life Coordinator at the Queen’s University International Study Center at Herstmonceux Castle.

Her desire to study urban planning came from her experiences while travelling. Sarah claims “I chose to study urban planning after a year of travelling, looking at the similarities and differences between the cities I was visiting, looking in particular at what made each city unique.” Queen’s was particularly appealing to her as the program allowed students to take land use planning, urban design and real estate development courses in the same stream.

Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia
Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia

Of her experience in the program, Sarah says “as I assume is true of any program, the first three months were a sharp learning curve, particularly for those of us with little formal education in planning.” This did not deter Sarah from the program, though; her passion for urban planning drove her to accept the challenge. Reflecting on her time at Queen’s, Sarah believes “when you are immersed in something you are truly passionate about, learning becomes a revelation of knowledge instead of a challenge.”

Her time in Australia came in the final semester of her degree. After hearing about the exchange program from SURP director, Dr. David Gordon, Sarah was initially hesitant about applying: “I had recently returned from visiting family there. Since there are a limited number of spaces available, I decided to be altruistic and allow someone else to have the opportunity.” Her interest in the exchange increased as the program progressed and her passion for urban design grew. Though she admits “the fact that I would miss Kingston’s winter in exchange for Perth’s summer helped the decision!”

Both the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University and the University of Western Australia contributed to Sarah’s understanding of Urban and Regional planning. “The courses I took at UWA allowed me to immerse myself in design and build on the skills I acquired at SURP.”

Sarah had been to Perth, Australia twice before, “I knew what to expect and therefore did not require much preparation, other than buying a few bottles of sunscreen, of course, and starting a blog to make everyone jealous!” Her blog covers her four months in Australia, discussing everything from the urban design of Perth to the adorable wildlife Australia has to offer. It takes readers through her four months in Perth, as she introspectively ponders in her first entry “Although I have been to Perth twice before, it has only been as an unsuspecting civilian who lacked the superabundance of intelligence that has been embedded into my psyche over the past one and a half years at Queen’s. It will be an experiment in planning and tanning.”