The Eighth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2006
Berkeley Prize 2006

Dustin Tobias Proposal

Sharing the Global Voice


Although its nickname, The Terminal City (1), has long since faded to obscurity, today more than ever Vancouver is a city of convergence. Home to this year’s UN-Habitat World Forum and host of the upcoming 2010 Winter Games, the city will unite thousands of individuals from over 150 nations, transforming Vancouver into a platform with global visibility. These events possess an unprecedented opportunity for positive global change, not through grand financial distributions, definitive social policies or formal disquisitions, but through the power of dialogue. The UN-Habitat World Forum will unite people from diverse backgrounds and initiate discussions in the hopes of one day establishing realizable strategies for attaining global vitality. By facilitating communication, we are able to share ideas, and develop methods for overcoming world hardships. The dialogues that will inevitably begin this summer in Vancouver will pose challenges and leave us with a sense of responsibility: presenting issues that if faced, will allow us to proceed into a sustainable 21st century.

Perhaps the name Terminal City should take on a new meaning for the 21st century. While the rail terminals of yesterday were a symbol of regional and sometimes international unification, the computer terminals of today represent the greatest opportunity for global connectivity. If strategies for a sustainable planet are to arise through dialogue, the computer is the medium by which worldwide communication is made possible. The increasing ubiquity of technology and the vast reach of the Internet has awakened us to the immense potential this immerging communications typology. With the click of a mouse, a doctor in Zurich can diagnose a sick child in Rwanda, an engineer in New York can send CAD files to a reconstruction site in Sri Lanka, and an earthquake victim in Kashmir can report to a diplomat in Geneva: the possibilities for instantaneous communication and its applications are unfathomable.

As part of the preparations for this year’s UN Habitat Forum in Vancouver and sponsored by the Government of Canada, the Habitat Jam, held in December of 2005 organized the world’s largest Internet dialogue session (2). The 72-hour Internet forum united thousands of citizens, academics, and legislators from around the globe in a discussion and debate over the key issues of urban sustainability. A series of 50 World Urban Café Jam Sessions, held in the slums of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, served as an intermediary, uniting people without access to computer or the Internet in an effort to enter their concerns into the global discourse. This event, unprecedented in its scope, themes and execution, was unique in its ability to provide a voice and identity to thousands of technologically illiterate individuals around the world.

Communication lies at the root of successful strategies for change. As the Habitat Jam confirmed, the Internet is the medium by which worldwide participation in discussions on the sustainability of the planet can be realized. When we broaden the reach of our social, academic, and legislative networks, we approach the global consensus necessary to proceed with positive change. Before this is to occur, we must take steps toward making this technology accessible to everyone, regardless of a community’s location or prosperity, and assure that adequate training is available to technologically illiterate individuals. The issues arising from this summer’s events in Vancouver will challenge our understanding of the problems of the urbanized world, and leave us with an obligation to take action. Before any great endeavors are to commence, we must bridge the digital divide and ensure that we share our global voice. We must listen to all, before we can begin to decide for some.

Motivation for Application

My interest in municipal wireless programs extends from observations I have made in the past year of my own city’s attempt “to set the standard by which wireless accessibility is measured” (3). While in Philadelphia, I am able to observe and evaluate a city that is actively employing initiatives to overcome the digital divide. In contrast, Vancouver presents an unprecedented opportunity to observe a city that is just beginning to explore the possibility of a municipal wireless network. In January of 2006, Mayor Sullivan called for an initiative to explore opportunities to establish free or low-cost Internet in Vancouver, stating, “an initiative like this could be tremendously beneficial for residents and businesses alike”(4). Now is the chance to observe the true affects of these large-scale communications endeavors: the effectiveness of their deployment and their impact on the physical, social and economic structures of the city. By investigating Vancouver’s current condition and examining the city at the inception of this infrastructural development, it will be possible to better assess the true impact municipal wireless program have on a cities, and develop sustainable strategies for assuring their effectiveness.

The world of today faces disturbing disparities. No great strategies for sustainability can be conceived and no significant actions can commence until we make accessible global communication a reality for all. Yet, the digital divide, the gap between the informed and the technologically illiterate, continues to prevent a great deal of the world’s population from ever obtaining their voice. Often falling along poverty lines, global communication remains out of reach for countless marginalized groups. While in Vancouver, I intend to investigate the efforts of organizations such as the KAYA, and their work in overcoming the communication barriers facing Canada’s Aboriginal youth. I’m also interested in investigating existing computer training programs available to persons of first-nations decent, and surveying Internet accessibility within the blighted areas of the Downtown Eastside community.


· Discover innovative ideas about the future sustainability of the urbanized world, through active participation in the GuiC+10 Meeting, World Youth Forum, WUF3, Global Studio Workshop and my own independent urban research. · Investigate current attempts to bridge the digital divide through a comprehensive understanding of events like the Habitat Jam, and evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts in bringing global voices into World Urban Form discourses. · Network with other young architects, urban planners, and academics in an effort to establish future interdisciplinary collaborations. · Investigate existing technological initiatives underway in Vancouver and document existing Internet availability throughout the city. · Discuss the notion of municipal wireless programs with other event participants and brainstorm new strategies for promoting technological literacy in disadvantaged areas.


GUiC + 10

· Attain an understanding of how children and youth perceive and utilize their urban environments, and discover ways in which our cities can take steps toward a sustainable future. · Identify the underlying issues facing children in today’s urbanized world. · Discover ways in which technology and education is being made accessible to youth around the globe, and learn about future programs and initiatives that encourage youth participation in global dialogues.

World Youth Forum

· Meet and interact with young delegates from around the world during the scheduled networking sessions and explore the possibility of long-distance interdisciplinary collaborations. · Learn about ways in which the Internet is used as a medium for youth activism and organization. · Attend scheduled roundtable discussions, particularly: “Making a living: Youth and Economy,” “Youth as Local Leaders,” “From Marginalization to Majority,” and “The Youth Agenda: Breaking the Barriers.” · Perform interviews when appropriate, to investigate global views on municipal wireless programs.

UN Habitat WUF3

· Attend the “Turning Ideas into Action” dialogues, particularly the sessions entitled “Urban Safety and Security: Taking Responsibility,” and “Public Engagement: The Inclusive Approach.” · Document activities through notes and participate when apt.

Global Studio (Workshop + Forum)

· Participate in the design charette and meet other architecture students from across the globe in an effort to myself to alternative design methods. · Discover responsible methods of designing for the world’s urban poor. · Gain exposure to the process of design-build and the challenges that occur while translating concepts into reality.

Independent Urban Investigation

· Explore a diverse range of neighborhoods, specifically Granville Mall, Downtown Eastside, Robson Street, West End, and Chinatown in an effort to attain a comprehensive image of the city. · Investigate future Olympic sites to observe progress and speculate on how the events might influence future development of the city. · Visit and tour early Edwardian buildings within Vancouver’s historic core.


· Maintain a detailed sketchbook and accompanying journal throughout the duration of my stay in Vancouver. · Photograph various sites visited. · Perform a comparison study of the e-visibility of several neighborhoods (Downtown Eastside, Granville Street area, Downtown), and produce diagrammatic map of findings. · Obtain audio recordings of lectures and discussions when permitted.

Additional Help and Information

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Dustin Tobias, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
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