Conversational Cuts on Learning and Urban Resilience

Conversational Cuts on Learning and Urban Resilience

By Robin A. Chang, 9 May, 2019

Reconciling the conceptual and actual implications of urban resilience is struggle that should not only be taken up in later phases of scholarly discourses, but in early phases of developing academic education. Indeed, the process of epistemological untangling is something that we as educators as well as researchers should better confront. The former more so than the latter, as we might learn a thing or two from the process ourselves.

My personal epiphanies in relation to this came about in a collaborative process that resulted from the City of Vancouver’s announcement that they were selected to join the 100 Resilient Cities network in 2015. While the municipal objectives to define and pursue a strategy towards urban resilience surfaced, a parallel and personal idea to follow this process and help students match policy and scholarly debates under this banner emerged as well. In late 2015, my Canadian colleague Meg Holden from SFU and I decided to collaborate on a pedagogical experiment which would foreground this narrative with intercultural and experiential learning through both formal (professor-student) and informal (peer-to-peer) levels of learning. We came together from different angles: Meg came from a position of interest for introducing field study experiences at SFU, and I mirrored her interest from a position of transactive learning. Little did we anticipate how the pedagogical aims of this adventure would challenge our own capacities to make sense of intrinsic and extrinsic learning, or the lack of documentation for such pedagogical processes. Both excited and somewhat tentative of our own abilities in setting up a project with consideration of the well-being and mental fulfillment of bodies beyond ourselves, discussions began in Vancouver regarding how we could approach such an experiment. The discussion’s spark ignited into subsequently, regular communications and momentum that literally ran around the clock. Since Dortmund is nine hours ahead of Vancouver, I eventually ended up working on the pedagogical project, and could almost seamlessly hand off tasks to Meg as my work-day wound down while hers took off. We both later realized that the human body can only handle so much efficiency.

Narrative complexities aside, the process of pedagogical planning transitioned with a presto pace into the start of the semester in October 2016. At this point, my own personal and pedagogical struggles started to form. My nervousness regarding how students received my proposal at least matched, if it did not beat out, the anxiety of all the gathered students. They were unsure of their chances to participate (with their friends) in the project of their choice; I was unsure of my first pitch, its reception and also if the project would even run. Once my students and I found each other, the hopeful course toward urban resilience clarity, through hybridized layers of learning began. My Canadian counterparts approached this this experiment in a manner that was different in terms of scheduling and format. The Urban Studies and Geography program at SFU did not offer year-long studio nor project formats which our program allowed for. This meant we had to creatively align our teaching and students – at least those whom Meg could convince to participate in two different courses. A second struggle resulted from the informal channels of learning we wanted to encourage and support. Despite the rosy notions inspired by our own learned experiences in which our social and professional networks became the best sources of information, our hopes to afford peer-to-peer learning partnerships in a similar fashion was a more awkward process to moderate and also for the students to develop. The ultimate struggle, however, took form and evolved as we together experienced the mismatches of urban resilience in theory, in practice and most valuably in our personal perspectives. Recognizing that what we read in papers and discussed in class did not actually happen in the public administration offices, along the dykes of rivers or amongst the infrastructural skeletons of post-industrial region was difficult to accept but not out of our mental bounds. Recognizing, accepting and becoming ready for the differences in opinions and actions that challenge our own means of framing and making sense of this actual mismatch was a struggle. The in-situ cacophony of trying to understand how our own internal means of voicing and rationalizing can build up defenses to learning alternatives ways of seeing the world and thus achieving a deeper and second-order level of learning was not only the biggest hurdle for our students, but the greatest surprise for us as pedagogical researchers.

In piloting this collaborative exchange in 2016 and 2017 to pursue a clearer conceptualization of urban resilience, a greater reflection on learning took place. Specifically, we as students and educators gained insight on the individual demands for greater openness and readiness for learning and teaching. Urban resilience may not have become any less confusing, but our individual delineations for learning such concepts in relation to internationally comparative contexts, and (in)formal sources of knowledge definitely sharpened.

To learn about our detailed experiences, feel free to access and read our full article in the open access journal Cities and the Environment from March 2019.