Murray McKenzie, M.A.P '14, SCARP

“SCARP maintains a consistent critical edge in thinking about cities. The school may be best known for its leadership in ecological sustainability planning, but the contributions its faculty and students make to scholarship on social justice, urban political economy, and postcolonial urbanism, among many other things, are also outstanding.”
-Murray McKenzie, Class of 2014

Community and Regional Planning is not just about designing cities, as Murray McKenzie puts it, SCARP students make contributions to “social justice, urban political economy, and postcolonial urbanism, among many other things.” What does one do with such a vast array of knowledge? For Mckenzie, Ph.D studies in urban geography in London are in his immediate future where he will continue to shape the world we live in.

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

Vancouver has a very large and very engaged community of urbanists, within which the university – SCARP in particular – plays a central role. But the city itself, its built form and its cosmopolitan sociology, also invites engaged thinking about urbanism. Vancouver is a ‘laboratory of progressive urbanism’, in the words of Professor Tom Hutton, even if its planning record is marred by persistent social disparities – and here too, SCARP faculty guide local critical discourse.

Why did you choose SCARP?

SCARP maintains a consistent critical edge in thinking about cities. The school may be best known for its leadership in ecological sustainability planning, but the contributions its faculty and students make to scholarship on social justice, urban political economy, and postcolonial urbanism, among many other things, are also outstanding. Beneath the school’s innovative work in urban and regional planning, I knew there was a very strong intellectual foundation that would properly prepare me for further academic urban studies. 

Tell me about your experience with SCARP. What have you learned that is most valuable?

SCARP has a very diverse student community, from diverse academic backgrounds, working in many areas of planning. In this environment, the importance of a holistic and inclusive approach to sustainable planning immediately becomes clear. In a personal sense, the memories I made and the social networks I built will remain valuable for years to come.

How are you applying the skills you learned through your studies at UBC?

I’m planning to pursue further academic studies, and I’m presently developing a research program that will continue to build on work I began at SCARP. But I suspect that my greatest strength as an academic may turn out to be my capacity to translate my ideas into real planning outcomes, always drawing on my background at SCARP.

What has been your most memorable extra-curricular/volunteer experience while studying SCARP at UBC?

I had the opportunity to become closely involved with the research of my supervisor, Professor Tom Hutton, which aligned very closely with my own interests. As his research assistant, I participated in academic conferences, travelled out of the country for fieldwork visits, and co-wrote for academic publication. Also, SCARP was very supportive of my desire to pursue music during my studies, including travelling for performances in Asia and Europe.

How do you feel a degree in SCARP has benefited you compared to a different field of study?

Compared with urban studies programs I considered in geography and sociology, SCARP’s applied approach to cities and planning equips me to be a better-engaged, more active academic. I am now pursuing a PhD in geography with a far more practical, trans-disciplinary, and solutions-based outlook than I would otherwise have.

What advice would you give to a student considering SCARP?

SCARP presents a unique opportunity to shape one’s own path of study. The faculty’s strengths are diverse, and they have the capacity to help you make connections in any area of planning you may desire.

Where do you find your inspiration?

It’s easy to maintain your enthusiasm for cities when you live in one everyday. I was lucky to have a supervisor, Professor Tom Hutton, who was happy to meet for coffee anytime, anywhere, and whose keen and unbounded interest in cities would always refresh my own.

What are your plans for the future--immediate? Long-term?

I’m now pursuing a PhD in urban geography at University College London. I’m looking forward to continuing to think and write about cities. But I’d also like to continue relying on the practical training I received at SCARP and look for ways to actively shape the cities we live in.

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

As an academic, I’d like to remain actively engaged in public discourse about cities. The knowledge and learning that accumulates at places like SCARP can make an immeasurable contribution to the planning field, but it requires ongoing exchange between academia and the larger community. That is something of which I’d like to be a part.