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Subhashni at Tar Sands

Paria Negahdarikia (first on the left), a native of Tehran, Iran, found her passion for community development after joining UB’s Master of Urban Planning program. She has helped children in Buffalo’s Perry Street community improve their neighborhood through projects like this model of a redesigned local park, which the students constructed themselves.

Paria Negahdarikia

Research Interests

Community development and transportation planning (her thesis will explore the relationship between transportation behavior and land use patterns through a case study in Tehran, Iran)


Activities

Senator, Graduate Planning Student Association at UB; in Iran, she was a member ofMahak, a charitable organization supporting children diagnosed with cancer, and the Women on Streets Society, which empowers women of low-income families in Tehran.

Just two years ago, Paria Negahdarikia was a planning practitioner in Tehran, Iran. Today, the MUP candidate is a community organizer and youth mentor in some of Buffalo’s most distressed neighborhoods. She recently sat down with Shannon Phillips, assistant dean for graduate education, to share her story.

“Your hard work has paid off — last year you received the school’s Alumni Scholarship and this year the Ibrahim and Vivian Jammal Scholarship.”

You began your studies of urban planning as an undergraduate student at Tehran University in Iran. What inspired your interest in this area of study, and why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree in planning?

In the beginning I wanted to be an architect. But then I realized I like to work with people, so I began to lean toward urban planning, taking a range of urban planning and urban design courses at Tehran University. After gaining professional experience [working for engineering consulting firms in Tehran], I knew I wanted to learn new things, and to see what is going on beyond the borders of Iran.

What attracted you to the School of Architecture and Planning and its Department of Urban and Regional Planning?

I was admitted to six universities in the United States. In making my selection, I read through all the professors’ profiles and was drawn to the research of Dr. [Samina] Raja and Dr. [Daniel] Hess here at UB. Also, it might not seem important, but the way the staff treated me was a major factor in my decision. They were responsive to my questions and always friendly. I wanted to go somewhere that would appreciate me. This is particularly important when you are attending a program outside your country — you do not want to feel like a stranger.

How have your research interests evolved during your first year and a half in the MUP program?

When I started the program, I was looking for some immediate experience in the field. I was placed in an internship with the Center for Urban Studies, teaching concepts in urban design to 5th–8th grade students at the Futures Academy, a public school in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood [part of the Center for Urban Studies’ work on a revitalization plan for this distressed neighborhood near downtown Buffalo that centers on a strong link between school and community]. I began to see that what I am really interested in is community development.

You are out in the field every day. How do you feel you are making a difference in revitalizing these neighborhoods?

This past summer, I served as a master teacher in a summer camp for the Perry Choice Neighborhood Initiative [working with middle school students, this “Academic Summer Camp on Neighborhood Development” had students design artistic panels to cover windows and doors of abandoned homes, build a model of a redesigned neighborhood park, and draft plans for an urban garden]. Through this program, we try to teach kids how to use the knowledge they learn in school in a real-world setting, to show them they can make changes in their neighborhood and their living environment outside the school. This ends up affecting the whole community, because when you teach something to a child, it affects the whole family.

I don’t believe that you have to aim for big things, but that you start first with individuals. For instance, I see my students who did not have self-confidence before, now feel they can change their community. So if I can make a change in one or two people that would be enough for me. Everyone at the Center for Urban Studies shares this attitude, so together as a team we make an even bigger difference. What I admire most about the Center for Urban Studies is that Dr. [Henry Louis] Taylor Jr., its director, is doing something different — he works to both improve the physical environment and invest in the people. And all the people in the community love him.

What have you learned from these experiences?

When I started teaching at Futures Academy, I was a little intimidated. I did not have confidence in my English speaking skills. But then I started to learn a lot of new things from the students. I began to relate to them. When they make fun of my accent, I say, “I am going to teach you how to design a city and you will teach me how to speak English.” This is a part of the Buffalo community that I would never have been exposed to if it weren’t for this internship.

How have they made a difference in your academic experience?

Of course, the financial support is a great help [during Paria’s first year, the value of Iranian currency plummeted, making her tuition costs relatively higher]. But this also shows me that what I am doing here is appreciated, and that people know that I am putting a lot of effort into my academics. This has only encouraged me to do more.

How do you hope to connect your experience here to your home in Tehran?

There are so many projects going on here in Buffalo through the School of Architecture and Planning that would make a huge difference in Iran. For instance, I think my research on senior transportation services with Dr. Hess is a great idea for Tehran or other cities in Iran. There is also a lot of opportunity to apply my experience with the Futures Academy, because no one in schools [in Tehran] is working to teach kids how to use their knowledge in the community. I am also interested in implementing grassroots gardens there. Community development is a new field in Iran, not much more than 10 years old. And people who work in this area usually work in physical planning and land use planning. Also, community development projects there are typically not funded. I know it will be a struggle to find financial resources for these projects, but this actually makes it more interesting for me.