Written by Ciarán Cuffe, who graduated from the LSE Cities Programme in 2019 and is the Green Party Member of the European Parliament for Dublin.
What a trip it has been! It has been a whirlwind since I kicked off on the MSc Cities programme at the LSE two years ago. I realised at some point that I’m one of those ‘boutique career’ people. I’m trained as an urban planner and architect, but I’ve spent a lot of my life in elected office as a city councillor in my home city of Dublin, Ireland and served two terms in the Irish Parliament. In one of those stints I was a Minister of State with responsibility for climate action as well as sustainable transport and travel. In more recent years I lectured at the Technical University of Dublin and set up an MSc Programme in Urban Regeneration.
However, in 2017 I wanted to broaden my knowledge, and find out more about global cities. I had been to China, teaching at the Gengdan Institute in Beijing and was fascinated by the dizzy growth of Asian cities in recent years. Undertaking an MSc at the LSE seemed like the right choice to improve my understanding of contemporary urban issues. The Programme consisted of five intensive weeks on campus and plenty of reading and assignments in between sessions. Each week consisted of lectures from the core staff as well as guest lectures and workshops. Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at the LSE and Course Director gave us wonderful presentations of contemporary cities around the world, while Philipp Rode introduced us to ways in which the green economy is reshaping cities. Professor Saskia Sassen explored the seismic shifts that globalisation brings to cities, and Suzanne Hall introduced us to the issues of global migration and urban marginalisation. Lecturers such as Henk Ovink the Netherlands ‘Water Ambassador’ showed us how Hurricane Sandy is reshaping the New York region, and the Mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa discussed issues of development in the Global South.
My fellow students on the MSc Cities Programme came from five continents to participate, and brought unique insights from their own cities such as Sydney, Oakland and Johannesburg. They brought different skills with them; property development and urban management; innovation expertise and urban design. Most of them were mid-career, and brought a wealth of life experience to the table. Debates were often heated as we worked together on group projects that tackled climate adaptation and infrastructure finance. Ultimately the course took me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to think differently about how urban regions develop and change.
For my final project I explored how my own city could decarbonise the transport sector. This tied into my role as chair of the City of Dublin’s Transport Committee, and involved interviewing senior experts in mobility and planning. Shortly after I submitted my consultancy report I kicked off my campaign for election as a Member of the European Parliament for Dublin. I ran on a platform of tackling climate change through focusing on transport and housing investment. I was elected in late May, and since July I have been a member of the Transport and Energy Committees of the European Parliament. I’m already applying some of the lessons learnt from the MSc Cities Programme in my work, and look forward to bringing my new qualification to bear on the urban challenges that the European Union faces in the years ahead.