Dreaming of Cities

I’ve been an avid city lover since I was a kid, and someone who wanted to travel not long after that. I remember going to my Grandmama’s house over the winter for Christmas only to ditch the family reunion to draw pictures of buildings, cities and maps on huge pieces of paper she kept in her closet for the close to 20 some grandchildren in her family. Coming from a small town outside of comparatively small (and un-city-like Ottawa), I started to want to travel overseas to see the cities I dreamed about.

My Grade Ten trip to New York - my first big city.

My Grade Ten trip to New York – my first big city.

My first obsession was Venice. The first book I ever bought was a tourist’s guide to the city from Chapters in Kanata, which I used to memorize different museums, markets and squares. I printed out an entire itinerary for an imaginary trip I would take after high school – this during my Grade Eight year. When Assassin’s Creed 2 came out with Venice as the main setting, I was hooked. I’d actually get to explore Venice from my own house – probably the only option I’d have until I had the money to jet set.

Soon after it was New York, which was the first city I wanted to learn about in terms of planning and design. I was fascinated by the grid plan, the order of the streets, and of course the size of it. Sitting in a town with absolutely no activity whatsoever, the hub of the world was an obvious draw for me. I bought Sim City 4 at this point, and went out of my way trying to recreate New York in game. When I got to visit New York with school, I was in absolute heaven – this despite absolutely terrible tour guides who knew less than I did.

Next came Paris, the destination for a Grade 11 school trip that five of my friends and I got to go on. I bought three tour books, and ended up ditching the teachers and leading everyone halfway across the Left Bank instead of waiting for them to finish their wine. Needless to say I got in trouble (which my sister would follow up two years later by drinking in the hotel room on the same trip), but the thrill of being alone and free in the heart of Paris was worth it.

Losing ourselves in France was an amazing experience.

Losing ourselves in France was an amazing experience.

The same pattern has played out year after year with different cities across the world. Dubai was another major one – how could skyscrapers be built so fast? How could they transform desert into a massive, over the top city climbing up destination rankings for business, tourists and immigrants? Around this point I was graduating high school and starting to approach cities with a more academic approach – I switched out tourist books for ones that described Haussmann’s complete renovation of Paris and its impact on the modern city; books on Dubai’s leap and the economic order that fuels it and the warnings of what could be if the money dries up; books on designing cities to be happier by increasing connections for its residents, rather than its cars.

And yet I’ve ended up in International Studies in Glendon.

The thing is, my major isn’t stopping me from taking courses about cities. I’m taking three courses up at Keele that cover things as varied as the restructuring of our cities from Fordist spatialization to Post-Fordist spatialization or the government interplay between municipal, provincial and federal and the growing governance at the ‘local’ level. The best thing is that International Studies complements these courses really well. It’s partially because International Studies is a very broad area of study, and you can do it from many different disciplines. It’s also because more and more of our international activity is centred in our cities. You want to talk about the impact of neoliberal ideology across the world? To a certain extent, it’s far easier to understand what it means at the city-level, where you can actually point to real, tangible examples of the ideology’s impact.

For me, International Studies is giving me the broader context that our cities operate in. Paris, New York, and Dubai are best understood when you fit them into the broader trends going on at the international level. The international processes are best understood when you can see their actual impact within our cities. While the two programs are quite opposite in terms of scale, each helps understand the other. That’s why I’m taking courses in both.

Combining my interests has helped my projects to interest me and be interdisciplinary.

Combining my interests has helped my projects to interest me and be interdisciplinary.

If anything, choosing the two has highlighted that university should be a time to study what you love – and if you love more than one thing, there’s no reason you can’t do both. So you want to do Gender & Women’s Studies at Glendon, but also like the idea of foundational law at Keele – why not take courses in both? It’s far easier to be engaged and prepared for class when the topics you’re studying reach back to the things you’ve been obsessed with since you were a kid doodling on paper and playing out your dreams. Nothing’s stopping you from fulfilling them!

I’m still counting the days until I can travel to the cities I’ve been fantasizing about and studying. Some I’ll get to see on exchange, others may be where I study for masters, and some may be where I get a job. The entire world can be opened to you with a degree – and for me, both International Studies and Urban Studies will get me there.

 

 

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