Now a fourth-semester VCL fellow, I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to various cities and methodologies by which my respective teams have examined them. In this semester, Team Tokyo engaged with the East Asian Megacity’s development in the latter half of the 20th century. Postwar Japan provided a unique and fertile ground for urban experimentation, with a relatively “blank slate” as a result of the destructive impact of the war. This resulted in a variety of experimental urban planning strategies and tools, from the Olympic Village in Tokyo in 1964 to the development of the Shinkansen, the bullet train that revolutionized domestic transit and urbanization. Our team brought together a variety of Japanese experts and neophytes on the subject (including myself). It was fantastic to hear about Tokyo from the perspective of public housing, government policy (like the famous ‘manner posters’), and the creation of a distinctive soft power through anime and other elements of Japanese visual and culinary culture. As an urbanist, I appreciated the conversations about Tokyo which engaged with the more granular everyday life of the city, particularly in small neighborhoods, and also extended these to the macroscopic perspective of the city and surrounding region. I especially was interested in the relationship between Tokyo’s built environment, food culture, and tourism—a confluence of factors I have previously engaged within Bangkok. My partner Natalie and I are working on a presentation on Tokyo’s transit—often looked at as the gold standard for metro systems, as well as the Shinkansen network. Both systems have facilitated extensive urban development within Tokyo itself, and also connected the city to the rest of Japan’s conurbations. The city’s metro system has been essential to ensuring Tokyo’s citizens have cheap, accessible, and efficient means of public transit around the world’s most populous cities.
As Co-Director of the Duke Initiative for Urban Studies, I was happy to promote the VCL for its final semester to students I have taught in my House Course “Urban Studies 101”, along with promoting the Lab on our social media channels. There are several students from both Duke and Duke Kunshan who have been able to expand their academic horizons in the exploration of cities through VCL, which will be a formative experience in their careers and develop interests in urban studies. This summer, I am excited to continue my experiences with the Lab as a curriculum development fellow for Professor Paul Jaskot, where I will collaborate with a team of undergraduates and graduate students to help develop an Urban Studies “gateway” course within the Art, Art History & Visual Studies Department that will form the nucleus of future urban studies academic program at Duke. I plan on drawing upon my work in the VCL over the last two years, along with my experiences creating a curriculum for our House Course, to inform our curricular development this summer. Beyond this, I will be continuing my career in urban studies as a research intern at Urban Studies Lab, a Bangkok-based think tank and consultancy dedicated to exploring and solving pressing urban issues in the global south. This experience will allow me to build on my past experiences interning in the city, and provide a foundation to conduct field research for my senior thesis, tentatively titled “Street Food City: Bangkok Foodways in the 21st Century”. This interdisciplinary project seeks to understand the relationship between the built environment, policy, tourism, and street food culture in 21st Century Bangkok. It will subsequently identify challenges and opportunities facing Bangkok’s food culture and provide actionable policy solutions that draw upon both the best practices in urban planning and policy and the distinctive foodscape and history of Bangkok.
I am immensely grateful to have had the community of VCL as a backdrop for my entire Duke experience. I’ve made great friends and connections through this community, and it helped catalyze my interest in cities to work towards creating a formal academic program in urban studies as my legacy here.