We The Planners

Promoting Greater Collaboration Across the Harvard Graduate School of Design

The Harvard Urban Planning Organization


Just 10 days ago, we released an Open Letter to the Harvard Graduate School of Design community with a simple message: that greater cross-disciplinary collaboration is desperately needed at the GSD if the designers and planners who study within its walls are to graduate with the skills and competencies necessary to truly make a difference in addressing the challenges of our built environments. We argued that the burden for achieving this goal falls on all parties - the administration, the faculty, and the students themselves - and that fundamental shifts in practice must take place in order to embed a culture of collaboration into an institution that is all too comfortable operating in disciplinary silos.

The outpouring of support from all corners of the GSD has been beyond heart-warming. Over the course of the week, more than 100 students from across nearly every discipline read our letter, attended our events, wore our pins (inscribed with our campaign’s motto: “Let’s Work Hand-in-Hand”), and voiced enthusiasm for our initiative in casual conversations. Members of the administration and faculty reached out with words of encouragement, affirming that our goals were indeed critical and long overdue. Ideas on how to increase real collaboration flowed forth in abundance, with suggestions ranging from the highly-ambitious (the administration should hire more professors who have interdisciplinary backgrounds; faculty should create new courses on soft skills tailored to negotiation and collaboration for those working in the design disciplines) to the seemingly-obvious (students should talk more to peers from other disciplines in the trays; faculty should publish mid-semester review schedules). The energy around our initiative was palpable.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive feedback, we can’t help but temper our optimism with a certain degree of caution. We know that this past week’s conversations are just the beginning and that a long road remains ahead before this work reaches a place where the true benefits of cross-disciplinary collaboration are realized. Culture shifts aren’t easy, and they certainly don’t happen overnight. They also don’t happen as the result of one week, one initiative, or one student group’s appeals. A culture of collaboration at the GSD will require nothing less than a sustained push for changes large and small - both inside and outside of the classroom - from all corners of the student body. To that end, we implore you to continue this effort in your classes, with your professors and department heads, and perhaps most importantly, with your peers. If you have ideas of your own on how to most effectively increase real collaboration at the GSD, we’d love to hear them (hupogsd@gmail.com). In a world with increasingly-complex, ever-evolving challenges, a culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration is critical for the continued success of our collective professions. That works starts here, with all of us, and we hope you’ll join us, hand-in-hand, as we strive for more a collaborative, understanding, and inclusive future.