Report by Marcel Gelein
After completing my BA Honours in Development Studies from the University of Calgary, I was looking to broaden, yet gain a more refined set of skills that would support my interests in food systems and international development. This opportunity existed through the Masters of Environmental (Planning) program wherein I had the chance to work with faculty members and fellow colleagues to study and design a program that catered to my interests in regional food system planning. My major research focused on peri-urban land use conflict specifically, looking at growth and farmland preservation in the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.
Furthermore, after my first year in the program, I spent a summer working for the Manchester Parish Council in Jamaica through York’s International Internship Program in partnership with the Canadian Urban Institute. This opportunity was unique as I undertook my first international planning experience and contributed to several projects including developing urban design guidelines and by-laws, policy on subdivision development and a food security project. One of the highlights for me was working first hand with local planners as well as other planning students from the University of Technology in Kingston wherein there was a continuous exchange of ideas and discussion about planning practices and challenges in Jamaica and Canada.
After graduating from the program in September 2011, I headed to Suriname, South America to undertake a 6 month, Canadian Institute of Planners internship funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. From October 2011 to March 2012, I worked with CIP’s partner in Suriname, De Vereniging Surinaams Bedrijfsleven (VSB) – the Surinamese Trade and Business Association. As an intern, I contributed to a land use project that focused on informal settlements located about 30km south of the capital, Paramaribo on land owned by a mining company. During the internship, I worked with a team to collect in-field data on housing; resident access to essential services including, water, sanitation and electricity; and the socio-economic conditions of the residents. Over this time period, we undertook over 100 household surveys which will have ultimately contributed to the development of an integrated development plan and strategy to transfer the land from the company to residents of the area.
I believe that York prepared me with the skills and knowledge to meaningfully contribute to my course work and projects in Jamaica and in Suriname. My Masters in Environment (Planning) has well suited me to continue in my career as a planner with both theoretical and practical experience. The program has taught me the importance of working with communities and the ability to think critically and analyze work undertaken which I will continue to do so in the future throughout my career.