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Improving Housing in the Global South

Meryem Belkadi
Master of Community Planning
2019
University of Cincinnati

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate education in planning?

I started my professional career as an architect and urban designer in Morocco in 2010. I took part in the development and the establishment of several urban developments and master plans in different cities throughout the country, working with renowned firms. However, instead of implementing social equity and social integration, these (mega)projects have the total opposite effect by giving privilege to the economically advantaged segments of society. My professional career opened my eyes to the reality of urban policies in Morocco and gave me the will and motivation to achieve impactful changes. I have the courage of my convictions, and, consequently, I decided to test my limits academically and professionally by resigning from my position as a project manager and starting a new adventure. In 2017, I applied for the Fulbright scholarship to further pursue studies that would deepen my involvement in the alleviation of inequalities, which severely affect the disadvantaged groups within society, by enrolling in the Master of Community Planning (MCP) program at the University of Cincinnati.

What aspects of your program do you like best?

Because of my background and my professional experience, I needed to enroll in a program where the faculty is diverse and multidisciplinary. The faculty of the School of Planning have varied specializations ranging from housing, urban design, economic development, transportation, and sustainability, with a focus on the United States as well as the Global South. The intersection of these different specializations is very challenging and intellectually stimulating both during class discussions and during research. Also, the MCP degree highly values the combination of theory and practice, as a semester of practicum is required for graduation. Most MCP students spend a practicum semester working in renowned planning firms around the country. I had the opportunity to do my practicum semester at DPZ Co-Design in Miami, Florida. The diversity of the faculty, the professional opportunities, and academic rigor attracted me to the program, and continue to do so.

What planning subject or area most interests you?

I find that housing and economic development are paramount for the development of communities. I am interested in economic development as an important aspect for accessing housing in the first place, as well as for improving housing conditions in communities. My master’s thesis research assesses the housing delivery system, through the analysis of the financial tools aimed at slum dwellers, in the context of slum clearance programs in Morocco. I am conducting this research under the supervision of Dr. David J. Edelman, who has a broad range of international experiences over many years, like many other professors at the School of Planning.

What advice would you offer someone considering a master’s degree in planning?

The planning field is at the crossing of different disciplines, so to help choose specializations, it is important for forthcoming students to clearly state their career goals. Also, an experience of any kind involving the community is highly valuable, because the MCP degree emphasizes community development. I would also highly recommend forthcoming students, either from a design or non-design background, read Jane Jacobs’ book titled The Life and Death of Great American Cities, ranked by Planetizen in the Top 20 All-Time Urban Planning Books, on the importance of planning in creating vibrant and diverse mixed-income communities.

What do you hope to do after completing your degree?

The MCP helped me achieve the depth of knowledge necessary to make a stronger contribution toward improving urban policies and housing program decisions in the Global South as well as toward achieving impactful changes in underserved communities. I would like to take this knowledge even further, so I am in the process of applying for PhD programs in North American universities, and the University of Cincinnati is one of my top choices. I am convinced that a master’s and a PhD degree from the University of Cincinnati will give me access to positions in international agencies, such as the World Bank or UN Habitat, so that I may put my experience and learning to good use and positively impact the lives of the underprivileged.

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