Aseem Inam: I am often invited to give keynote speeches at conferences and to speak in front of more scholarly, or more practice-oriented, or a mix of the two types of audiences. Inevitably, I find that the best questions tend to be from students in the audience. Why is that?
Having engaged in both university teaching and in public discourse for some years now, I believe I know the answer. The best students tend to possess a combination of genuine curiosity, a real desire to learn, an open-minded attitude and an intellectual intelligence that makes them want to think things through. Alas, and on the other hand, many of the most experienced practicing professionals and scholarly professors are far too immersed in their own, and sometimes-jaundiced, view of the world to really want to grow as urbanists and as human beings. In such circumstances, students can and do really brighten up a room.
Moreover, students are truly the transformative future of urbanism. This is because of the combination of traits I mention above as well as the need for fundamentally different ways of thinking that experienced practitioners and professors—especially those steeped in conventional, albeit rigorous, ways of thinking—are unable to embrace. We see examples of student leadership in social movements, in political movements and in urban transformation, including projects that came to fruition due to the ideas of students. For example, in Toronto, a group of graduate scholar-practitioners from the University of Toronto collaborated with the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee [TPWC] to build upon their accomplishments to develop a set of community-based design strategies to transform the neighborhood. The ideas and projects were extremely well-received by local leaders and community members, and now a member of that team of scholar-practitioners is on the Board of the TPWC.
In this third blog post about "Why I Teach," I want to celebrate the brilliance of students and the hope that they give us all. This is not naïve thinking; on the contrary, throughout history and especially in cities, one finds time and again that students have shown us a way to the future through their courage and intelligence. I always look forward to collaborating with them. AI