Posted February 14th 2012 at 7:50 am by
in Featured Contributor

A Conversation with Alpita Masurkar


How did you become interested in urban planning

I was interested in cities because of my work as a journalist at the Times of India. Through the stories I was writing, I became increasingly aware of how cities were planned for infrastructure and how they should evolve.

In the beginning of my career, I thought covering the city would be boring. One of my first tasks was to go through the whole exercise of understanding the regulatory framework and policy structure in Mumbai.  Through that process I started to look at the city differently.

I got more and more interested in how the city had evolved and what was happening there. For instance, how was transportation planned? How did new policies impact the everyday reality of the city? I started looking for narratives that told the story of Mumbai. This new perspective helped to shape my writing.

With a new perspective on cities, what did you think was your new role in shaping them?

When I started working at Times of India, one of my editors sent all reporters reviews of their work.  In these reviews, he offered frank opinions in hopes that his feedback would help them improve.

His advice to me was that he thought I had brains, but wasn’t using them.  I didn’t really know what it meant for a long time.  Then I had a conversation with him about it, and I said, “That comment really struck me.” I asked him what he meant by me ‘having brains and not using them.’  He said, “You are probably capable of doing a lot more with what you know and what you understand.  It’s just that you’re not channeling it in the right direction.”

That conversation stayed with me for a long time, and soon after, I started looking into city planning. I enrolled in a graduate course to study Political Science and Urban Studies at The University of Mumbai, but soon discovered that there was more to learn, so I applied to MIT.

I realized, you know, I was always on the other side of the story – watching someone else act and writing a critical report about it. That is what really inspired me to think seriously about planning. I wanted to be on the other side so I could use my brains and do something about some of these issues in the city.

Do you think blogs can impact urban planning?

A lot of the readings in my planning course talk about democracy. It suggests that democracy can be used as a tool to channel different kinds of development and movement at the local level.

How do you influence locals?  How do you get to them involved?

You can do that by telling them stories that explain the process of city planning.  You want people to influence the decisions, so that what happens in the city is more personal and more in sync with what they want.  That is important to me.

But if I ever returned to journalism, I would still write for newspapers.  I think the education I’ve had here at MIT would influence the stories I write.  City Planning professors write columns in newspapers, but sometimes they are so technical that only a student or an academic can understand it.

I know from my experiences as a journalist that most people understand issues if you write in a way that is practical. It is important that I understand this difference now, and that I use my education to write my stories in a style that everyone can access, to possibly get better participation from people in a planning process.

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