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Passion Project: How to Reconnect with Nature While Living in a Modern World

Dec 21, 2021
Host: How did Planning Places come to fruition and what sparked the internal dialogue behind its ideation?
Planning Places was born in my urban design classroom in downtown Toronto, where I began a personal study of the healing relationship between nature and cities. Living in a modern metropolis, I grew intuitively aware of the unhealthy effects of my disconnect with nature and so I began documenting and capturing my outward and inward exploration of my relationship with nature through a Finsta, with the account name @planning.places. Through that Finsta, I started reclaiming my disconnected and distanced connection with nature. So, my homework really sparked the creation of Planning Places, which crystallized after I graduated with my degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Planning Places is essentially a call for the rediscovery of the nature inside of us as lifelong students.
Host: Can you colour the picture of the impact Planning Places is making and how it conveys itself within planning?
Our message is that you and I and everybody reading this right now, are the link that we are seeking to connect nature with cities because that link already exists within each and every one of us. And truthfully, the sustainability of our cities depends on us rediscovering and nurturing that link within us because nature is a part of you, and in cities where sometimes there's less nature to connect with, this can have unhealthy effects on our wellbeing. The research within the public health fields, within our own urban planning field and at the intersection of other disciplines, have revealed this to us. And so, what Planning Places aims to share is that whether you live in a bustling city like I do, or in a cabin off of the grid, like I wish I did, nature adds value to your life and reconnecting with nature doesn't have to happen outside of your city or even outside of your body. It already exists us within you, whether that's the air that's migrated through the atmosphere to find itself into your lungs or the food and vegetables that have crossed the ground to enter your lunch on your tables. Overall, we try to inspire the reconnection of nature within urban geographies.
Host: Could you elaborate on the coexistence of being both an environmentalist and an urbanist?
I think that the history of urban development has kind of created a binary between cities and the environment as two opposing domains. In the past, to develop a city, it necessitated overcoming the natural terrain and Planning Places reclaims space to explore how city builders and city dwellers can continue to value the environment, even within cities and urban landscapes.
Host: How has your city planning education and experience prepared you for Planning Places?
Placemaking is one of the things that really resonated with me throughout my urban planning education and is the core of Planning Places. Similar to physical landscapes, as we engage with these interactive technologies, like social media, we're constructing and occupying social spaces in online landscapes. In my journey of claiming and holding space for the coexistence of being an urbanist and being an environmentalist, I was just setting out to create and curate a place. And on Instagram, Planning Places' primary platform, I've come to understand pages as places existing in virtual neighbourhoods that we own and sometimes visit. Some are libraries and galleries, or museums and markets. And I like to think of my page, Planning Places, as a community hall, a multipurpose public space, serving our community.
Host: Can you describe a teachable moment that has resonated with you on this personal journey? 
I think that the entire existence of Planning Places has taught me so much, and it's hard to pinpoint one moment, but I will say that what it's taught me is that emerging professionals navigate really crowded spaces in the development of their careers. And while it's important to be a lifelong student, I think it's equally important to stay close to what is closest to you. And so really in the process of forging the space, I was really scared actually, that there might not be room for me in my field of study, because my thoughts seemed too disruptive, even though all I wanted to do was create harmony and peace. And so I've really learned that if you can't make room for your own ideas, then nobody else will be able to even see them. And so I learned that which is most personal, is most universal. Online landscapes give you an opportunity to reach people from across the world because they're touched by your ideas that you're hiding in the innermost corners of yourself. And so, Planning Places is an open love letter that began with simply an idea and now it's grown into a community with the ability to connect with people and to have the courage to share, to just be authentically yourself.
Shameeza Gafoor, Creative Director @planning.places
Planning Passion Projects is an initiative of Your Planning Career to explore and invite creatives within the spaces of planning to share unique experiences and perspectives. With the world facing global crises, planning for sustainable, inclusive and equitable communities requires both long-term thinking and immediate action. This platform will feature the change-makers of today who are setting the stage for brighter tomorrows.
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