Deborah McKoy, Executive Director and Founder of the UC Berkeley Center for Cities and Schools at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development and a lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning
The school year has just begun— all virtual at that! How are you feeling? What do you think of teaching online?
I am feeling excited, nervous and cautiously optimistic about what this year will bring to all of us. Last spring, when everything as we knew it came to a screeching halt, we had a remarkable thing happen in my spring CP 268 Community Development Studio. Our partners within city planning departments - from Los Angeles County to San Francisco to Sacramento - nearly doubled! Planners recognized the great need - and opportunity - to use digital technology to reach out to communities they were rarely able to connect with until now and how schools were a powerful vehicle to do so.
With the constantly changing context of a global pandemic, historic protests addressing systemic racism, and economic uncertainty, our Spring Studio CP 268 has become an important place for planners and civic leaders to reach out to low income families and young people of color too often marginalized from the planning process. Together we are using our online classes and digital resources to engage hundreds of young people across California in lifting up new, innovative ideas and solutions to our cities most pressing challenges today.
What have been your latest research efforts? What are your hopes for them or their impact?
Our Y-PLAN action research initiative reached an important 20 year milestone in 2020 with two important goals in mind. First, we are reaching back to reflect on and analyze all that has transpired over these 20 years and the powerful role DCRP graduate and undergraduate students played in the growth and evolution of the Y-PLAN global strategy to engage youth and schools in city planning and social change. The culmination of this work will be capturing these reflective insights across two decades by completing a new book on the Power and Promise of Building Communities with Youth and Schools for Routledge Publishing in 2021.
Second, with support from foundations, local governments and school districts, we have shifted the Y-PLAN civic learning and participatory planning strategy to focus on three regions in California - the SF Bay Area (where Y-PLAN started), Sacramento and LA County. We are working with our partners to develop a regional strategy, and infrastructure, to engage young people in local planning efforts in the coming year as well as working with the California Strategic Growth Council on aligning such regional efforts to statewide policy.
What gets you excited as an educator and planner?
LIke many colleagues, we are committed to “never wasting a good crisis”! I am learning how technology can bring to the surface new ideas from unexpected corners and communities. Digital technology can connect planners and educators in new ways, coming together to transform historic inequalities and unjust practice across our cities. Our public schools are public infrastructure (as my colleague Dr Jeff Vincent often reminds us) and must be recognized as such at the outset and not as an after thought within city planning.
Perhaps today, during this global pandemic and uncertain, and profoundly unsettling times, we might together recognize the powerful role our cities’ young people can - and must - play in planning and designing for a new, more just and equitable future.
What is your advice to students looking to study planning and environmental design?
Follow your passion and well, biggest questions! Graduate studies should be the ultimate time to problem solve, not just from books and lectures but allowing you time to tackle your greatest questions and concerns in a bigger community of like minded peers and colleagues. There has likely never been so important a time to study planning and environmental design - we need new answers to quickly unfolding environmental challenges.
What issues do you face in research and scholarship?
For over twenty years I have conducted action research to better understand and position young people and schools as central to city and regional planning. While I am optimistic that the field is changing and becoming more open the their important role, long standing marginalization of young people in the planning field has also been my greatest challenge. I am hopeful the growing recognition of the need for new, fresh voices to help make decisions about our cities - and the future they are inheriting - will continue to inform and grow our field for the future.
What do you miss most about CED?
Having conversations like this, but in person with students and colleagues in Wurster’s courtyard, hallways or frequent events where we interact, disagree and discuss what changes are possible today for a better future tomorrow.