" I study how urbanization and land use decisions impact how natural hazards are experienced in Vancouver, with mind to how we are impacted by multiple climate-related disasters at the same time"

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Natalie Chiang

January 15, 2024

Urban Studies master's student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Tell us a little about yourself, including what inspires you to learn and continue in your chosen field

Hi, I am Natalie. I am a Community Planner, and a SFU Master of Urban Studies student.

I completed my B.ES Planning at the University of Waterloo, where I really took to urban design studio and utilizing design analysis to inform policy decisions. Assisting my professors, I was also keen to learn more about the gaps between the theories of sustainable neighbourhood design, and what is achieved through ‘best practices’ in design guidelines. Partial to travelling - even for school - I also saw how North American or global models of sustainable development may not be sustainable in other places, when applied out of context.

I seek a graduate degree to develop critical perspectives on my own planning career. I find comfort in indicators, metrics and plans. But, I also know these tools may be misused for other motives, misrepresentative of what is sustainable, and maladaptive (e.g., when an action is intended to be sustainable, but is unintentionally counterproductive).

In my spare time, I write novels. I write silly tales that are separate from urban planning, but I also write about what I wish the loudest voices in civic processes knew about marginalized members of the community (albeit in a more satirical and fantastical setting).

Why did you choose to come to SFU?

I chose Urban Studies at SFU because I was adamant about conducting industry-relevant research, and sought a program with a strong tradition of faculty and graduate students engaging with the city that it is located in.

I learned about the program from my professional network and former professors, who praised the quality of teaching and research supervision in Urban Studies. I made my decision based on some of the published theses of recent alumni, which represented the type of work that I wanted to produce at the end of my studies.

How would you describe your research or your program to a family member?

I study how urbanization and land use decisions impact how natural hazards are experienced in Vancouver, with mind to how we are impacted by multiple climate-related disasters at the same time (e.g., heat waves and wildfire smoke).

I use my background in land use planning and urban design to examine whether design regulations for all the natural hazards that impact my study area agree with each other. In other words, would planning for one hazard be inadvertently counterproductive to planning for another?

I also examine whether design regulations for natural hazards (in combination and as a sum of their parts) agree with the overall vision of a sustainable neighbourhood that we are guided towards in the neighbourhood plan.

What three (3) keywords would you use to describe your research?

Sustainable Neighbourhood Design, Natural Hazards, Emergency Management

How have your courses, RA-ships, TA-ships, or non-academic school experiences contributed to your academic and/or professional development?

In Urban Studies, all courses are offered in a seminar format. Students are typically quarter-career to mid-career urban professionals, which add a valuable component of peer learning to the curriculum.

Leading discussions and engaging in complex subject area dialogue with knowledgable classmates and instructors is instrumental to building out a multidisciplinary understanding of urban issues and refining a critical lens of practice.

Have you been the recipient of any major or donor-funded awards? If so, please tell us which ones and a little about how the awards have impacted your studies and/or research

I fully funded my studies and covered a some of my basic living expenses through SSHRC CGS-M and a few terms of SFU Graduate Fellowships.

Major awards allowed me to negotiate a leave of absence with my employer, and financially support myself as I focused on my coursework during the first half of my degree.

Financial support and a program that is flexible to the needs of working professionals enabled me to pursue my degree without disrupting progress towards my other career certifications.


Contact Natalie:nkc8@sfu.ca