Skye Duncan from Dunedin used her 2006 Fulbright- MORST Graduate Award (now known as Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award) to complete her Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design at Columbia University in New York City, after completing her BArch (Hons) at Victoria University of Wellington. A decade on, she is now based in New York as Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative and the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
I am currently the Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI) and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) based in New York City. We have been working for the last year with a network of experts from over 40 countries and 70 cities to produce a Global Street Design Guide, funded as part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety.
The Guide challenges the prevailing models of street design in cities and sets a new global baseline for the design and implementation of quality urban streets. Design guidance for highway standards have been poorly and dangerously applied to urban environments around the world and this new resource provides alternatives that focus on the many roles that streets play in cities. The Guide will highlight the broad–reaching benefits that great street design can have on a city’s economy, environment, and social structure. The final publication will be released in fall 2016, and will provide additional tools to help transportation officials, practitioners, leaders, and communities shape future cities that put people first.
Starting this year we are also working with local governments and practitioners in Ethiopia, Brazil and Colombia to apply these principles to specific contexts. The plan is to continue to grow and find ways to help many more cities around the world transform their streets to more efficiently and effectively serve more people.
I get to travel to many interesting places, meet fascinating new people and explore other cultures, and while it’s an insane amount of work and long hours, I feel every lucky to be able to wake up each day and know I’m spending my time helping to make the world a better place.
When I was graduating from my Masters at Columbia University, the NYC Department of City Planning was creating an Office of the Chief Urban Designer to insert the role of design more strongly into the everyday planning and policy of the city. I was fortunate enough to be able to join this wonderful team— a once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved in shaping this fabulous city. I worked with so many talented people to contribute to affordable housing projects in Queens, to small public plazas in the Bronx, to vision plans for waterfronts in Staten Island, amusement districts in Brooklyn and large sites in Manhattan with multiple skyscrapers.
“I feel every lucky to be able to wake up each day and know I’m spending my time helping to make the world a better place”
We spent a lot of time caring about how buildings touched the sky and how they touched the sidewalk, and focusing on how we could make New York a more livable, healthy, sustainable and resilient city.
Having trained and worked in architecture and urban design in New Zealand, I was really looking for a program that focused specifically on urban design, and at the time, there was actually not too many of them in the US. Columbia presented a perfect fit for me. It had a short and intense 12-month program (perfect for a professional break), an international class and faculty where I could learn from some of the brightest people from around the world. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was in the heart of a city I was extremely excited about living in and being inspired by each day!
We were a class of 39 students from every corner of the world. Most people had a few years of professional experience already, and the average age was probably around 25-26, but a few people were straight out of undergrad. With the intensity of the program and the structured nature of group projects, we developed into a large family very quickly, spending long hours and late nights in the studio together.
The first semester we focused on New York City as a site, the fall concentrated on the regional and systems scale of urban design, and the final semester saw us travelling to Ecuador, where we spent time learning from the informal settlements and large regional infrastructure in Quito and Guayaquil.
The program was incredible in that it was able to deconstruct so many diverse international interpretations of urban design then reconstruct this definition in a way that allowed each student to learn a little bit of all the languages required in the profession of shaping cities; thinking about policy, social and cultural considerations, public health, environmental and economic sustainability.
When I was doing my Fulbright exchange, I ended up in Columbia apartments in a three-bedroom apartment on 112th street and Broadway, just a few blocks from campus on the upper West Side (and right next door to the Seinfeld diner). I was sharing with one American student, and another Fulbright student from Ireland who was also in my class — still one of my closest friends today!
When I look back on my exchange, I think the highlight has to be the incredible people I was fortunate enough to meet through Fulbright. Smart, eager and fascinating strangers from each corner of the world became good friends, I learned about professions I never even knew existed, and the program allowed me to experience a diversity of cultures I would otherwise never have been exposed to. Many, many thanks Fulbright New Zealand.
“The highlight has to be the incredible people I was fortunate enough to meet through Fulbright. Smart, eager and fascinating strangers from each corner of the world “
I currently live in Harlem, New York, about 8 blocks north of Central Park, but I have also spent time in the Upper West side and Williamsburg during the last 10 years. For me, New York is one of the most energetic, fascinating, and inspiring cities. The plethora of interesting people, the endless opportunities for new experiences, the world-class theatre and arts scene, and the diversity of global cultures all at your finger tips make it an addictive city to live in, and certainly hard to leave! What I miss most about home is having easy access to clean bodies of water to jump in, the breathtaking landscape, and of course many friends and family.
Beyond getting the Global Street Design Guide out there in the world, we concentrate on providing technical expertise to apply the principles of the Guide to specific contexts, and in particular Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Bogota in Colombia. We are really excited to start helping cities implement more sustainable street designs, to change local practices, and to assist in transforming their cities to be better places for people.
Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Awards are for promising New Zealand graduate students to undertake postgraduate study or research at US institutions in fields related to science and innovation. At least ten awards valued at up to US$31,000 (plus $4,000 travel funding) are granted each year, towards one year of study or research in the US. Applications close on 1 August annually.