The following was written by Amos Wright ’13 about his meandering path to UEP. Throughout the summer, we’re featuring posts by a few incoming students, explaining in their own words a little about what brings them to our program. The previous post was by Janet Lau. If you are an incoming student
I received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I discovered planning through the enchanting backdoor of urban and critical social theorists such as Edward Soja, Henri Lefebvre, Walter Benjamin, et al. The urban poems of Frank O’Hara were also inspirational.
In the sultry summer of 2007 I muttered some tearless valedictions to the city of my birth and drove a U-haul a thousand miles north and east. Boston revealed to me that urban centers don’t have to be asphalted acres of industrial blight gloomier than T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” During my brief employment at the Harvard Bookstore, I got my paws on an edition of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That gospel of urbanism was soon joined by other provocative books, in which I read how the interstate highway system was used to further the cause of racial segregation, even after it was declared unconstitutional.
Jump-cut to 2011. I’ve finished a graduate degree in English (also at UAB) and can’t get a job at Barnes & Noble. Epiphany: I have to work for a living, and academia, at least among the humanities, is slowly going extinct. I was a dilettante, the eighth cardinal sin. I was getting older, and it was time to get serious.
Eventually, I resolved to apply to urban planning programs. I interned at the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, a vast bureaucratic labyrinth of Kafkaesque dimensions, but I learned some concrete skill sets like GIS and Google Sketchup and collected field data for the city’s anemic bus system. Birmingham might be a regressive city stuck in 1963, but its urban form remains an asset. We have Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue. Paris may have the Eiffel and New York the Statue of Liberty, but we’ve got Vulcan.
At present, I drink copious quantities of French pressed coffee and write on a short story collection and a novel. I also edit The White Whale Review, an electronic literary journal, and The Heaviest Corner, a blog devoted to urban issues in Birmingham. May this second graduate degree be my last one.