The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Jordi Sanchez-Cuenca

Jordi recounts experiences of studying MSc Urban Development Planning at the Development Planning Unit

Jordi Sanchez-Cuenca
I started my career as an architect and urban planner in Barcelona, the city where I got my architecture degree. At that time I had an uncanny feeling about the world of architects and planners there; somehow I felt I didn’t fit in it.

After 3 years of practice both in the private and public sector, I decided that I needed to challenge myself and bring some change to my life. The only thing I knew for sure is that I did not want to put my architecture and planning skills in the service of the aesthetic and mercantile speculation that dominated Barcelona. I needed some stronger motivations, and I needed to feel I was somehow contributing to the creation of better and more sustainable societies.

Luckily, my wife also needed a change, so we packed and traveled to Southeast Asia with the objective of having a groundbreaking experience. We worked and traveled there for a year and a half, enough to make a decision about what I really wanted of my life. I needed the tools, the arguments, so I decided to study an MSc and the DPU was the one that fit best my needs.

The DPU’s Urban Development Planning course was revealing. I didn’t imagine that the social, political, environmental and economic side of urban planning would be so wide and interesting. The DPU really opened a whole new world to me, and helped me meeting my vocation again. I realized I had a lot to offer and that there were career options waiting for me out there. After my MSc at the DPU I felt truly confident about bringing about change in slums and making urban development more sustainable.

I spent the last three months at the DPU dividing my time between the dissertation and job searching. Two days before giving in the paper I was offered the job of leading a team in the reconstruction of two tsunami-hit villages in South India. At that time, I also was at the second stage in the selection process for a housing trainee position in Lambeth, London.

I chose India, and the job became an incredible experience. I spent two years reconstructing houses and promoting cost-efficient, environmentally friendly technology for housing and urban development in general, with a strong focus in water and sanitation. There I successfully tested and consolidated what I had learned at the DPU: participation, gender, empowerment, local economic development. The project was chosen by the UNDP as one of the ten best reconstruction practices in India and won the special jury’s price in an eco-building fair in Paris, France.

After India, I’ve been working as a consultant for Spain’s International Development Agency (AECID) and I am now an international United Nations Volunteer in Ecuador working for UN-HABITAT in a very interesting water and sanitation governance programme. Here I am having the chance to contribute to making public policy more socially just, gender sensitive, effective and to strengthening governance at the local level. Meanwhile, I’ve been practicing my writing skills at some specialized journals and blogs with other DPU ex-alumni (see The Polis Blog and MIT’s CoLab Radio).

The DPU was just the beginning of a learning and career building process. It gave me the analytical and argumentative tools to build a strong urban development approach, which has been extremely useful in making work decisions with confidence and in contributing substantially to work documents and meetings.