Q&A: Natalie Macay’s Urban Design Dream

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Natalie Macay is passionate about cities. She’s petite and brunette, and as she speaks about Manhattan, her slanted eyes light up in wonder. From her perspective, every nook and cranny in the city is an opportunity to explore.

She’s living her childhood dream of studying Urban Design and Architecture at New York University. The institution has offered Natalie an unprecedented chance to network, learn, and most importantly, to live her passionate environmentalism to the fullest.

On a humid summer afternoon, Natalie and I met at Think Coffee. The location was her suggestion: “It’s the only place in the city that offers compostable cups, can you believe it?” As we sipped on iced coffees, we discussed her career, academic experience, and her dream of making Manhattan a greener space.

What led you to your Urban Design and Architecture?
From a young age, I’ve been interested in the way cities are organized. This led me to an interest in the buildings themselves, and through the internet, I started learning about architectural design and history. However, when I was deciding a college major, I wasn’t sure if architecture was it. I’d heard it was a tremendous workload and I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Then, I found out that New York University offered the Urban Design and Architecture program. It was exactly what I was looking for, because the door of going to Architecture school is still open after I finish my undergraduate.

How has your experience at New York University been like?
It’s been… I’m not sure how to phrase it. I hate the word interesting but I think it’s the only way to describe it. It can be very overwhelming, to meet so many people, in such a busy, fast, and merciless city. But, looking back now that I’m a junior, I’ve learned so much. New York City has so many places to explore and gain knowledge from, that I’m extremely thankful and lucky to be here. I’ve met a lot of people with passions similar to mine, too.

How do you feel as your cultural background has shaped your experience?
I was born in Miami. I feel as if this city has a blatant consumerist culture… Of course, the whole country is a throw-away society. But, I feel as is Miami is especially prone to this sort of superficial and unsustainable living. Everyone has a car, drives and lives privately. There’s not a big sense of community, like here. States like New York and California are also consumerist-driven but there’s a much bigger effort to be ecologically conscious. So, in conclusion, I think Miami made me realize that I wanted to live and learn is a much more developed and mature city.

What do you think is the most pressing issue in urban design today?
Definitely environmentalism. Manhattan, while better than Miami, still has a long way to go compared to California. We need a new, greener, and more efficient waste disposal mechanism. I actually had this very intense Gallatin class in which I designed one. It was basically a automatized subway for trash, and of course it wasn’t perfect, but I got an A+!

What do you think are some ways of being more ecologically conscious?
First of all, always carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day. It’s a win-win situation because it’s good for you and the planet. It would also be great if everyone would carry their own mug or thermos. On that note, the law should require that every coffee place offers compostable cups. Moreover, if you’re gonna get a food delivery, getting plastic utensils should be an option, and not the standard.

How do you visualize the city of the future?
From an environmental standpoint, there would be no cars, just public transportation — this entails not even Teslas or electric cars. Every building would be sustainable, with little to no waste. From a social standpoint, capitalism, racism, and sexism are inherently interconnected. So the city of the future would have little to no gentrification because those systems would no longer exist.

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