How Rwandan girl got involved in designing Canadian city

Her goal is to determine and materialise projects that can improve the quality of life in communities in Kigali./ Courtesy

Iliiza Karangwa moved to Canada four years ago with a vision to acquire architectural skills that would help her take part in the implementation of the Kigali City Masterplan for 2050.

This vision, she says, was sparked by seeing Kigali’s fast growth, and because of this, she wants to seize the moment of being a part of Rwanda’s urban development.

As a fourth-year urban and regional planning student at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, Karangwa has braved the harsh winters of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, since she moved there in 2016 after finishing high school in Kigali. 

It was her curiosity about sustainability, design, and inclusivity in urban development that modelled her career path. 

Amidst all these aspirations, however, Karangwa had barely dreamt of, as a foreign student, being part of a team that would transform one of Canada’s historical sites — Prince Albert. 

The city derives its name from Prince Albert, who was the husband to Queen Victoria — Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from June 20, 1837 until her death.

Prince Albert is the third-largest city in Saskatchewan, Canada, and because of its stunning features (including Prince Albert National Park) and a vast wealth of lakes, forest, and wildlife, the area was named ‘kistahpinanihk’ which loosely translates to ‘the meeting place.’

Karangwa poses with fellow students. She hopes to use her skills towards the implementation of the Kigali City Masterplan for 2050.  Courtesy photos

This year in her advanced design studio class taught by Henry Lau (a Saskatoon-based architect), Karangwa and her classmates are creating design proposals for about two acres of Central Avenue and River Street in downtown Prince Albert which includes a museum, local business and the North Saskatchewan riverfront. 

Their professor chose the site as a potential focal point of their downtown city. They are the first class to have a project outside of Saskatoon, and far have presented their first phase of design proposals to a group of professional planners, architects, and designers, including the director of planning and development services for the City of Prince Albert. 

Karangwa says if this design project goes beyond the studio class and into actual development, it will actualise her dreams of making an impact on how people interact with and appreciate their environment. 

“It would be incredibly encouraging that I am on the right career path. I am enjoying putting the planning and design principles we have learned into practice with this project, and experiencing what a firm does to get their plan proposals implemented. The beauty of the project is the freedom in creativity and the exciting possibility of the City of Prince Albert implementing our plans,” she says.

She hopes their plans can help create a sense of place for the community, emulating how the city is historically known as a ‘meeting place’. 

“We are planning activities to engage and gain insight from the public with a design charrette with high school students and locals. Then we will refine our proposals with their considerations and lastly, have an exhibition to the public in April,” she says.

Insights on urban planning

Karangwa explains that urban planning is such a broad profession, noting that the benefits of that include allowing one to work with a wide range of industries and businesses, and also, one is constantly engaging with the community at hand. 

However, she has observed that one also needs to learn what their passion is within urban planning; be it public policy, transport, and design among others, for them to be highly competitive with specialised skills. 

“The University of Saskatchewan has a welcoming geography and planning department that gives you the freedom to specialise in your field of interest; such as community, environmental, design, and indigenous planning in which I chose the design stream.”

She observes that the experiences she gained in her recent internships have given her the confidence for this project. 

“I interned at the City of Saskatoon in Heritage planning, in addition, to assist on the Kigali Masterplan with the City of Kigali and Surbana Jurong. To broaden my skill set, I have added Geomatics as a minor degree. Geomatics involves integrated approaches to analysis, management, measurement, and displaying geographic and other spatial related data. Also, I practice design using software such as Sketchup, Photoshop, and AutoCAD in my spare time. 

“Any further advances in technology will benefit this profession. It will increase the job opportunities for urban planners and designers, and it will help emphasise the importance of this profession in urban development,” she adds. 

Going forward

Karangwa reveals that she is constantly trying to understand and figure out solutions to the issues faced in communities daily. 

This keenness, coupled with her skills, Karangwa plans to accomplish more in regards to improving communities and their livelihoods. 

“I wish to finish my degree within a year, pursue a master’s degree and eventually do my part as a youth in the implementation of the Kigali City Masterplan for 2050. My main interests fall under urban design and transportation planning.”

This year, she plans to continue interning, where she sees the opportunity to learn from already established professionals. 

“My goal is to determine and materialise projects so I can start to improve the quality of life in communities in Kigali and other growing African cities.”

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