Professional Profiles

Urban design graduates work to make urban spaces friendlier

Carol and Jay Hamlin. Photo by Greg Ehlers.

By Amy Robertson

Two SFU Continuing Studies graduates are working to make their city “friendlier” through welcoming public space—and the Urban Design Certificate is helping them create it.

Carol Hamlin is a senior planner for the City of Bellevue, just outside of Seattle, Wash. Jay Hamlin, who holds a degree in urban planning, is a project manager by day, but has volunteered as a planning commissioner for the City of Bellevue since 2008 as a way of giving back to the community.

Both thought our certificate program, which consists of courses such as Public Realm as well as Ecological Planning and Sustainable Design, would strengthen their work with the city. They began in 2013.

“The things being offered were things I really needed to do for my job,” Carol says.

Jay hoped the program would help him reinvigorate his work in and around urban planning—and it did.

Together, the couple was able to immerse themselves in what they were learning at SFU. “It’s not just going to class, reading and walking away,” Jay says. Courses focused on application, and the certificate culminated in a studio course during which they worked together to design and implement an urban design project.

They enjoyed their coursework so much that they integrated urban planning conversations into their daily life. Whenever they see a plaza, they ask themselves how it invites pedestrians—or how it doesn’t.

Jay and Carol also turned part of a vacation to Japan into a professional excursion. For their Urban Revitalization course, rather than choosing a space they were familiar with for a case study, they used a plaza in the city of Tokyo.

Carol, who works with architects and developers regularly, now has the expertise and the confidence to ask, ‘Where is your sense of place? Where can people gather?’ and ask for changes to plans. It gives her a special sense of satisfaction and ownership to see spaces being built that she’s helped make more welcoming.

Jay found his coursework on negotiation of particular value. “It’s something I use in the planning commission all the time,” he says. “You walk away feeling more confident.”

Jay also loved working with and learning from the others in the program, benefitting from their passion and experience. Both he and Carol found it challenging in the best possible way.

“It can only make you better when you’re around people like that,” says Jay. “We miss it.”