CAMD alum Müge Ündemir, who graduated from the School of Architecture’s Master of Design for Sustainable Urban Environments (MDes-SUEN) program, is a Boston-based planner and designer. Müge is currently a Senior Planner at Boston Planning & Development Agency, serving Mattapan, Roxbury, and south of Fields Corner in Dorchester. The role is fast-paced and interesting, and we were lucky enough to catch up with Müge about that, as well as her time at Northeastern, recently.
Please read more below!
Tell us about your work at the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
My work as a Senior Planner at the Boston Planning and Development Agency includes a variety of responsibilities. Standard responsibilities for planners in many major cities include preparing recommendations to the zoning board of appeals, providing a planning perspective at meetings for small and large projects, and leading community/public meetings.
One of the most exciting opportunities in working as a senior planner is learning about the historic social and political dynamics that exist throughout Boston and how the implications of them manifest differently depending on the neighborhood or part of the City they are in. It is no secret that the history of development in Boston has been quite contentious and problematic, leading to a lot of distrust among residents in Boston. Rightfully so, a lot of this distrust still permeates through many neighborhoods throughout the City and comes to the surface during any planning or development process. As a planner, I feel I have the responsibility to work towards changing that dynamic and creating opportunities for new relationships to be built and to ensure communities’ voices are being captured in any planning process.
As one of the lead planners for PLAN: Mattapan, I am looking forward to continuing to work with residents of Mattapan throughout the planning process and getting to know how residents envision their neighborhood growing and the opportunities for the future.
Before your current role, you worked as a Greenovate Boston Program Coordinator. Tell us about that!
At Greenovate Boston I managed the Climate Ready Boston Leaders pilot program, now known as the Greenovate Leaders program. The Leaders program was developed in order to work with residents who are, or want to be, leaders in their neighborhoods, and supports them in taking direct actions to mitigate or adapt to climate change. The Greenovate Leaders program emphasizes that residents are the experts; they know their neighborhoods and communities best and should therefore be leading conversations and actions in their neighborhoods. Knowing this, Greenovate works directly with residents, providing them with support, both financially, technically, and programmatically, to create meaningful change and protect the City’s greatest asset, its communities. My work at Greenovate was to further develop the program and to move it out of its piloting phase.
My day to day at Greenovate included cross-collaborating with different departments in the City, working closely with residents who were interested in or were participating in the program, while also developing new and interesting strategies to engage with different audiences in the City. One of my favorite parts of the Leaders program was working with Boston Public Schools in training High School students to be a part of this program and work with us to bring these tools to other students.
Why did you choose to pursue a Master of Design at Northeastern?
Northeastern’s Master of Design in Sustainable Urban Environments program was intriguing to me because it allowed me to imagine how climate change and policy interact in the urban landscape. I have always been interested in understanding why our cities are, function, and exist in the manner they do and how they must adapt to prepare for future changes.
I chose Northeastern’s program for a number of reasons including the incredible professors and instructors, such as Dan Adams, Jane Amidon, and Nicholas Brown, and the programs emphasis on interdisciplinary work. At Northeastern I took courses in public policy and planning, attended the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (A2RU) conference in Michigan with other students in CAMD, and worked with professors whose own work crossed boundaries of multiple disciplines. Overall I felt that through the program I would be able to pursue my specific interests, while learning the tools to relate these to urban design and planning.
What were your co-op experiences like at Northeastern?
While at Northeastern, I had the opportunity to do two different co-ops. The first was with The Boston Harbor Association, now called Boston Harbor Now, and the second was with Bishop Land Design (BLD).
At the Boston Harbor Association I was a Climate Fellow and predominantly focused on developing a series of workshops in the Charlestown Navy Yard to address how climate change would be affecting the neighborhood and Boston as a whole. We coordinated community members and stakeholders throughout the Navy Yard to participate in visioning the space and also to report back any concerns they might have as waterfront residents. It was my first venture into combining both urban design, policy, and planning and the experience and relationships I built continue to inform my work today.
At Bishop Land Design I was a researcher and designer. There I was able to learn how conceptual designs, similar to those we develop in studios, move into construction and final design. There I was able to continue to pursue my interests at the intersection of planning and design by working closely with planning firms on projects throughout the country. Following my co-op at BLD, I was hired to continue my work with them, which was an incredible experience and opportunity.
Why are topics such as urban landscape, sustainability, and climate preparedness so important and relevant?
Landscapes are political and anything that interacts with our landscape is either perpetuating social, ecological, and political systems or they are working to create change. Knowing this alone makes fields of urban design, landscape, and planning so important and relevant, especially in the political and environmental climate we are in today.
When we think about cities and the spaces that comprise them, we should also be thinking about how policy decisions, social movements, and ecological changes have affected, or will affect, cities’ pasts, presents, and potential futures. That is why urban designers and urban planners should continue to work with and across other disciplines such as the arts and social sciences, and why programs like MDes-SUEN, in creating space for these disciplines to co-exist, is extremely valuable.