Mina Shirk has always been fascinated by the potential of urban planning. Specifically, in how the production, structuring and appropriation of urban spaces could positively impact the development of communities. Seeking to make a career out of this, the Iranian armed with a master’s degree in architecture joined Dalhousie University’s Master of Planning (MPlan) programme.
“It was offering a two-year master’s with courses that I was interested in taking as part of the planning programme,” she says. “The location of Dalhousie in Halifax was also a factor in choosing this university. I wanted to experience living in an authentic maritime city in Canada.”
In her first week, orientation and informative sessions quickly got her up to speed and adapted to her new environment. She even met an Iranian-Canadian who helped her learn about the Faculty of Architecture and Planning. “I also received support from a group of Iranian students at Dalhousie. They helped me set up my bank account, find an apartment to rent, and showed me around the city,” shares Shirk.
Beyond peer support, students can reach out to staff at the International Student Centre. From immigration updates to peer support, a wide range of services are available through the Centre. That’s not including activities, events, and initiatives hosted by over 250 active societies at the university — all offering students the opportunity to connect with more like-minded people and make new friends.
Architecture and Planning at Dal is made better with hands-on components that bring programmes to life. The Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies (BEDS) and Master of Architecture (MArch) by the School of Architecture, as well as the Bachelor of Community Design (BCD) and Master of Planning (MPlan ) by the School of Planning are all experiential.
BCD and MPlan students learn more about the practical aspects of planning through visits to significant planning sites and collaborating on community projects. This past March, Dr. Lisa Berglund led a group of MPlan students to New York as part of the International Field Trip course, which included trips to the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Hudson Yards and the Stonewall Monument.
For her final project, Shirk drafted a revitalisation plan for the Alexander School community in Halifax. It focused on repurposing underused land for affordable housing in an area of the city that was going through regentrification (the process of upgrading urban neighbourhoods) and displacement of its lower-income residents.
“My experience with that project led me to secure my first job at a development company where the lead architect was applying modern techniques to address the housing affordability crisis in the Greater Toronto Area,” Shirk shares. “Relying on what I had learned from my school project, I could provide planning expertise to support the housing project.”
Caleb Nakasaki, an MPLan student, helped organise the 33rd annual Shift Planning Conference hosted by the Dalhousie School of Planning. Held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this annual conference brings together planning students and faculty, policymakers, planning professionals, scholars, interested community groups, and members to discuss the issues affecting the places we live, work and play.
“Organising the SHIFT conference was a fun and chaotic experience, to say the least,” says Nakasaki. “From fundraising and scheduling to food preparation and running activities, it was a jam-packed experience from start to finish!”
At Free Labs, BEDS and MArch students work as collaborative teams on projects that address topical design-build concepts in sustainability, net-zero design, and construction material modelling. These design-build labs are led by faculty members, sessional instructors, and industry professionals.
Much of this explains why Dalhousie University is among the top 100 universities worldwide for their support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The institution’s cooperative education programmes are also a step ahead of others when it comes to nurturing students who are confident and ready for the world of work. Dalhousie has one of a few architecture and planning programmes in Canada that offers cooperative education as part of its curriculum, a practice that dates back to 1970.
“The co-op that I did as a requirement of the planning programme at the Cities and Environment Unit was professionally beneficial to me,” Shirk shares. “I also took on myself to do a few months of volunteer work at a planning firm in Halifax in my first year to learn some technical skills that would add to my marketability.”
Finding a co-op placement is easy with the Science, Information Technology, Engineering Cooperative Education Office. They manage cooperative work placements and internships, maintain the myCareer online portal, and are the principal contact for practice-based courses.
It’s how the faculty has a co-op placement rate that’s currently greater than 95%. The Planning and Architecture co-op programmes are accredited through national peer review and are highly respected by employers and graduate students.