(Summer ’16) Ricardo Martinez Campos, G
Ricardo Martínez Campos (G, Urban Studies and Planning)
Ricardo will spend his summer as an intern in the Department of Transportation of the City of Monterrey in Mexico. He will be working in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation as an advisor and transportation planner. During his stay, he will be leading the Mobility Strategy for the Metropolitan Area of Monterrey that includes the assessment of the creation of a new metropolitan transportation planning institution as well as the transportation strategy of the 2030 State Strategic Plan, which addresses the improvement of the quality and service of the transit network. To achieve this, he will be conducting analysis on current and forecasted performance of transit services, strategic planning with GIS tools, guidelines for institutional coordination in metropolitan areas and fare-policy effects in travel behavior.
Check back for his updates!
6. Final reflections
Overall, I tried to get the best from my experience, even if at the end the objective of my internship changed a little. I’m happy that I was able to undertake different projects within a short period of time, and even happier that I got to get excellent experiences from them.
I’m also happy that I was able to come back to my country and make a change (which I believe I did in each of my projects). I’m deeply grateful with the PKG Center and the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT for all their support; I would encourage them to keep helping students achieve their dreams.
I can tell that I’m not anymore sure on coming back to Mexico to work in a Transit Agency. While the experience was overall great, I feel that I can bring greater changes in another sectors or government agencies. I also reinforced my interest in teaching and now I’m convinced that I want to pursue the Kauffman Teaching Certificate at MIT.
I hope this experience will inform my thesis, which has to do with Governance in Latin American Metropolitan Areas, and I hope I can come back to follow-up with the projects and initiatives I left in Mexico!
5. The MIT recruitment event at ITESM
By the end of my stay in Mexico I had already settled down my project at Metrorrey, and the course I was lecturing at ITESM had finished by the end of July. As I’m a very active person, I couldn’t stay with doing nothing and, thinking about previous conversations with my students on how to apply to MIT, I had the idea of doing an MIT recruitment event at ITESM.
The idea was born not only from those conversations, but also from previous knowledge and personal experience on how hard it is to apply to an American University. For international students, and specifically Mexican and Latin American students, it encompasses a lot of different issues, from confidence and personality to personal budget and simply lack of knowledge. Through different surveys made previous to the event, we found that most of the students do not apply because of fear of being rejected (and have wasted their money), fear of failing on the GRE and TOEFL examinations and uncertainty about the whole application process, which is particularly distant to any type of application in Latin America (rarely there will be Universities in Mexico that will ask for a Statement of Purpose or Letter of Recommendations).
As a graduate student at MIT, I feel a strong responsibility of bringing something back to my country and to Latin America as an extent. So I decided to partner with the CVC (Centro de Vida y Carrera ITESM) and Latinx, the latin american student group at SA+P MIT, and do a recuirtment event at ITESM to explain to potential MIT applicants, ITESM senior students and ITESM alumn how to make a successful application to MIT and in general to American Universities.
The event was held on 2 different sessions, assigning the first day to programs related to SA+P and Engineerings. The second day was a more general day focused in the general application process, though we contacted academic advisors from SLOAN for help on application information.
Particularly SA+P gave us funding to bring DUSP and Architecture students to the event; at the end, 2 alumn and 5 current students attended to the 2-day event and shared their experiences with those potential applicants. Overall the event was a success and it was full both days. I want to share some pictures of it with you.
4. TOD assesment
After 6 weeks working at Metrorrey I had my first opportunity to wokr in a project that was better related to my previous academic and professional experience: a TOD assessment. As I mentioned before, the Line No. 3 of the Subway is under construction, and the General Director was interested on better understanding the concept of TOD (something fairly new in Mexico and totally new in Monterrey); this concept has its foundation on urban development around transit stations, usually BRT and Metro.
To achieve this I was instructed by the director of the project of Line No. 3, Enrique Lozano Lee, to develop a TOD assesment around one of the new stations that was under construction: Felix U. Gómez Station. This station has all the potential to turn into a TOD example nationwide, and action needs to be taken if this goal wants to be achieved. While most of the area around the station is highly consolidated, and the construction is actually an expansion (Line No. 1 has a stop already there), most of the land surrounding the station is owned by the Agency, turning this into a great opportunity where the Agency can turn into a potential developer, or rent it to developers.
3. A reality Check
This is not the first time that I work for a government agency in Mexico. In fact, my last job before coming to MIT was consulting for the government in the same project: the Metro Line #3 (that I mentioned in my last post).
However, this time was different. I was coming back to Mexico with a refreshed mindset, thinking that I would be able to make a huge change, both because of where I was coming from, and also because I had knew knowledge that I could bring to the table. Additionally, I was going to work with the general director, and I assumed that would give me a privileged position, not to take decisions but to give recommendations to the one who takes them.
Unfortunately my experience ended being quite different from what I was expecting. I had the opportunity to engage with the team that was developing the guidelines for the mobility studies, but most of it was already settled down, so my task was basically reviewing it and addressing recommendations on what could be improved or what should be taken into consideration that was probably not yet considered. Also, since this was being made by an external consultant, it was my job as well to review if what he was doing was correct and complete. However this task was not taking a lot of my time, so I engaged in a new project that was not in my sight from the beginning: a Way Finding strategy for Metro stations. I definitely enjoyed working in this project, but I think most of my efforts focused on it and probably I was expecting a different experience.
To develop this project I had to visit each of the stations of the system to understand what was failing in term of Way Finding. After that I developed a report on which were the deficiencies in this topic and also recommendations on how to improve decision-making for these projects in the future. However, my main task was to develop a strategy of Way Finding, which basically consisted on studying one of the new stations for Line No. 3 and deciding which signalization would be created and where it would be located. To achieve this I developed a BIM Model that allowed the team to understand how the station worked and at the same time, make it easier for everyone to understand the needs the station had in terms of Way Finding.
On the other side, my experience with my class at ITESM was amazing, probably more than what I was expecting (because this is a 1-month course, sometimes things can feel like in a hurry and the engaging experience with students feels messy). The client was overall an excellent client and students showed real interest on the required project. The structure of the class was simple: students would present their proposals to the instructors (PhD Diego Rodriguez and myself) for weekly review. After 3 weeks they would have a pin-up of their projects and their advancement would be measured against each other (they worked in groups of 2). In the last week, they would present the project directly to the client, who would give feedback about them.
I was happy also to share with them my experiences at MIT. Similar to them, when I was a student I dreamed on continuing my academic formation in an internationally recognized university. They were eager to know what I had to do to get accepted, and how I covered the application process. It was in fact these conversations with them what pushed me to plan an MIT recruitment event at ITESM.
2. The School of Architecture, Arts and Design and the Collective Transportation System.
I had previously lectured at Monterrey’s Tech.4
One year before arriving to MIT I gave a BIM graduate course, that was also given to private companies interested in implementing BIM in their construction processes. I was as well instructor of the Thesis Course at the Department of Civil Engineering.
However, I had never experienced lecturing in the Architecture Department. I was eager on doing it, but the process to achieve it was complicated: unlinke other departments, the requirements were hard to achieve for me in that moment (a master’s degree minimum and 5 years of professional experience). When I was in my freshman and sophomore years I experienced both positive and negative experiences with courses and teachers in this Department. In my senior years I was convinced that changes were needed to be done if we wated to improve the quality architecture (and to an extent, planning) is understood in Monterrey. In fact, when I applied to MIT I was very clear on my teaching goals after graduating:
“(..) On the other hand, I do believe that teaching labor is very important in a country where nobody talks about urban planning; that’s why I would like to combine my professional life with teaching in the most prestigious Universities in the country or in the world, teaching how to reinvent the city and expose the new social and urban problems of the XXI Century. I have plans of forming a new Urban Planning Program at ITESM, outlined as the best University of Mexico.” – From my Statement of Objectives on my application to MIT, 2015.
Fortunately, MIT has opened to me opportunities that I never expected. When I decided to come this summer to work at Metrorrey, I also sent an e-mail to David Noel Padilla, who is the Academic Dean of the Institution, with my concerns about teaching and my future projects to help ITESM; he later instructed the Head of the Department of Architecture, PhD. Diego Alberto Rodríguez Lozano, to prepare a course that we would co-teach it during the summer. My opportunity to shine had arrived!
The course, titled “Urban Design Methodologies”, would work with IMPLAN San Nicolás, a government institution in charge of the Urban re-development of the mentioned municipality (and which is part of the Metropolitan Zone of Monterrey). The chosen site would be the historic center of the municipality, and 14 students registered to develop the project. Mainly, the class would have two branches: the lectures/readings/discussions, which would consist on 2 session per week on discussing a series of readings in class, and project sessions, which would be the the other 3 days, and that involved site visits, urban design proposals (individually or by teams of 2) and project reviews with our client (IMPLAN), Diego and I. For the first branch, chosen authors, among other, were Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Kevin Lynch (The Image of the City), Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities) and Thomas Campanella (Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning). The course lasted from June 1st to June 28th, and was taught during the summer period of ITESM.
During the first two week of activities, we made several site visits to understand its context. We arrived to the site using the Metro system, that represented the first experience for some of the students, even to those who were born and raised in Monterrey. My participation during this period of time focused on helping students to realize and understand that there is more things beyond architecture, engineering and design that make urban planning. For me, these whole experience and precisely these two weeks were more focused on exploring the urban context with my students and helping them to question themselves things they’d learnt throughout their academic experience. Perhaps, things were differently from the way they’ve learned them. I was eager to discover with them the city, from all different perspectives but architecture.
Additional to this project, my main internship was to develop the guidelines for the mobility studies for the Metropolitan Zone of Monterrey; in charge of the task was the Transit Agency of the Metro Area called Metrorrey. In fact, this agency does not hold power over all transit systems, it only focuses on those of massive impact: subway, bus rapid transit and metrobuses.
Ideally I would be working with the General Director of the Agency, and while my main task was clearly defined, I was open to other projects and experiences. Specially, I was eager to apply my knowledge on Geographic Information Systems and TOD to develop assessments on new subway stations to measure their potential to embrace TOD. I also wanted to do some research on fare policy, a very much needed political reform to maximize the social benefits transit systems bring to communities.
1. Monterrey, “la Ciudad de las Montañas”
It’s been a whole year since the last time I was in this city.
I lived 7 years here, I know the city very well; I know it’s people, proud of being one of the most hard-working and economically pushing societies in Mexico. I studied and worked here, and I’m a proud graduate from Monterrey’s Tech, a worldwide high ranked university that yearly sends their best students to the best universities around the world, among them MIT. I’ve seen the beauty behind the people’s lives, as well as the beauty of the city itself: its history, its culture and the lifestyle that surrounds it.
However, I’ve also seen this city and lived it during hard times. In the summer of 2010, Hurricane Alex destroyed a great part of the public infrastructure of the city, mainly transportation infrastructure. By that time I was still at the university completing my Architecture and Civil Engineering degrees. In a city positioned among the top 10 cities with the highest amount of cars per capita in LatAm, I had to live the consequences of this environmental disaster: I was a car driver. After the summer and during Fall, it seemed obvious that Architecture faculty would focus their courses on this issue: how to rebuild the city. Here I found my interest on City Planning that I personally owe to the late Agustín Landa Vertiz. That semester we made a proposal for the government of the State on how to rebuild the city in a very Corbusian way. I believe that this was my first encounter to a city planning project. Regardless of the importance of the project itself, I started to discover that my interests went beyond Architecture or Civil Engineering, and landed in a limbo that had to do with them but was not exclusive of other disciplines. I was turning my interests towards land use and transportation and how these elements had shaped the city, representing their fate but also their salvation, to some extent.
In a country were planning is not seen the way Americans understand it, it was hard for me to focus and find my interests in the academic structure of the Architecture and Civil Engineering programs, though these were the closest resources to what I was looking for. I was avid to make a change, I wanted to make proposals, to improve the city; I knew the consequences of bad planning (segregation, marginalization, economic implosion), and I knew that decision makers had no real formation nor capacity to foster a change.
I owe to all these circumstances my application to MIT. Monterrey is to me no less than my second home.
So after that whole year being absent, entering from La Huasteca to the center of the city was very special. I was coming back to a very welcoming city, I was seeing my friends again, I was eating real tacos once more. But furthermore, I was coming back to make a real change (or at least to star it!). MIT has given me all these opportunities to succeed and to connect with the highest levels of decision making in Mexico, and I’m not letting those opportunities go away. I’ve always wanted to make a change in my country, and now I’m back to prove it.
This summer I will be working in two main projects: during June I will be co-teaching the Urban Design Methodologies summer course at the School of Architecture, Arts and Design of Monterrey’s Tech, alongside with PhD. Diego Alberto Rodríguez Lozano, who is the head of the Architecture Department. During June and through August I will be working at the Collective Transportation System of Monterrey, holding a position of transportation planner (something that actually does not exist here!); Ideally, I will be developing the 2030 Mobility Strategy, establishing the guidelines of the mobility studies needed to be developed to build this strategy.
Dear reader, I will keep you posted about my adventures. I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as I’m enjoying myself here, right now.