“When I came to Rice my freshman year, there was no urban planning-focused club – and not really any discussion about urban planning at an academic department level,” said Justin Raine, senior civil engineer.
That struck him as not only odd, but lacking, given Houston’s status as the fourth-largest city in the country and Rice’s role as a longtime partner to the city on various research projects and collaborations. So, he and fellow Will Rice College resident and statistics major, Kate Thomas, set out to change that. They formed Rice Urbanists, today a thriving university club dedicated to issues that affect the urban landscape: parks, traffic, transit, equality. Students from multiple disciplines are part of the organization.
“For me, founding Rice Urbanists was about tackling the idea that the only thing constant is change,” he said. Originally from Australia, Raine has been living in Houston for the last 15 years. Over that time, he’s seen the city’s profile change. “There are all these new buildings, and there is always new construction. I wanted to look at how and why Houston became this way.”
It turns out, other Rice students did, too. Raine said the club has a leadership team of six people, and a core membership of 10, although more often come to the group’s events. As co-founder and president of the club, Raine said his involvement cemented his interest in how planning matters to urban areas.
“I’m interested in the long-range view and the social view of engineering,” he said. He recently accepted an offer with Jones and Carter, a full-service engineering firm, and will join the them as an urban infrastructure and transportation engineer after he graduates in May.
Over the last four years, Raine has worked with the Kinder Institute for Urban Affairs to bring speakers to campus, and he said linking with the center has taught him something valuable about being a leader: the art of networking.
“Learning who to go to on campus to get things done has been great,” he said. “I’ve learned how to negotiate about how events should happen, how to plan and make sure we’re bringing in speakers that address the things our members want to know. I’d never coordinated events before, and it’s been an important skill.”
Raine is most proud of bringing together a group of committed students to address problems affecting cities. He said that the issues facing Houston aren’t limited to the Bayou City, but touch cosmopolitan areas around the globe.
“I think that more people are interested in issues like this than you might think,” he said. “And Houston has been a leader in so many areas. Look at the public-private partnerships that enhanced Buffalo Bayou and Hermann Park."
Raine will take the lessons he learned as co-founder into his new job. He said he’s most looking forward to how the urban landscape can change.
“When I interned with Jones and Carter over the last two summers, I worked on park masterplans and streetscapes. Now, I will get to look at how those streetscapes improve pedestrian access and what changes need to be made so that planners look at a new way of seeing a road. It’s not just a road, it’s part of a whole system of transportation and sidewalks and store fronts that makes up a city.”
As for Rice Urbanists, he feels the group has a strong foundation to build on.
“We built a group that allows people to connect to talk about real-world issues,” he said. “Rice is such a great place to study cities. I know our members are going to continue the work that we did going forward.”