Meet the team - Grace Gielink

The Urban Big Data Centre brings together the expertise and experience of colleagues from all over the world. We'd like to introduce some of them in a series of informal profiles.

What is your job title at UBDC, and what does your role entail?

I am a Project Officer working within the Urban Sustainability and Participation projects at UBDC. My role comprises of general administration, organisation of meetings amongst the teams, monitoring of project task assignments, monitoring of project budgets, supporting all team members with various research tasks and communications, and liaising between project partners.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, my time is focused primarily on the IDEAMAPS Data Ecosystem research project which just kickstarted this year. Working with partners in Kenya, Nigeria, the UK, and the US, the project aims to bring together different mapping approaches to produce a more accurate and community-validated depiction of “slums” and informal settlements in Kenya and Nigeria. With this validated information, produced in collaboration with residents and government leaders who live and work there, people will be able to communicate more effectively to request basic improvements in the areas where they live and give visibility to their needs.

Are there any subject areas you’d like to explore in more depth in the future?

Most recently on a trip to Nairobi with the IDEAMAPS team, I was fascinated to learn more about the building materials that people use in slums and informal settlements. Materials range from iron sheets, to concrete blocks— some buildings are just one storey, and others are multi-storey structures that have grown vertically over time. I’d like to know more about this specific kind of development and how people use the resources they have on hand to build the most suitable home for themselves and their neighbours.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I’m from Cleveland, OH (USA) which is a medium-sized city located on the banks of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes bordering Ohio, New York, Michigan, and Canada. I’m the oldest of 5 siblings who have all just recently spread from Ohio to Montana, Colorado, and Texas— giving me loads of new places to visit. I was always interested in cities and more specifically, historic buildings within cities. Cleveland has deep industrial roots and is part of the Rust Belt of the US which suffered significantly from the effects of de-industrialisation. This is a big part of Cleveland’s fabric, with many old industrial buildings still sitting vacant and painting a very clear picture of the city’s background. I was always in tune with this growing up, and when I went on to study Politics, I was interested primarily in how local politics and community action play out in the context of buildings— preserving buildings and finding new uses for existing buildings.

After studying Architectural Conservation in Edinburgh, I went to live in Massachusetts where I was trained in traditional building trades such as masonry, wood window repairs, and basic carpentry. I worked on historic buildings owned by the state and national park services across Massachusetts, most notably the old military buildings that still stand on the Boston Harbor Islands (a place that even most Bostonians have never visited. I highly recommend visiting if you’re in Boston and up for a nice ferry ride). I then worked in Rhode Island for several years where I helped run a program for teaching people how to build and repair dry stone walls— the same kind of walls that are found throughout Scotland and England.

I now live in Edinburgh with my partner Kyle and my well-travelled cat Jalapeño (Jala) who came over with me from Rhode Island. I enjoyed an unforgettable plane journey with her to Amsterdam followed by a ferry to Newcastle where we were welcomed by Kyle after several years of long distance partnership.

What do you like about living in Scotland?

To be honest one of my favourite parts about living in Scotland is the climate. I enjoy the overcast days that are never too hot or too cold, and sunny days take on a new kind of special feeling. I love being able to walk everywhere and have access to different kinds of landscapes and bodies of water throughout the country. Even on days where I have nothing to do, I know I can just step outside and a simple walk will take me to somewhere new or something that I haven’t noticed before. Every time I leave, I always want to come back.

What other interests do you have outside of work?

Outside of work, I am either hiking, running, walking, reading, trying new food (although I am mainly a non-meat person I’ll pretty much try anything), taking pictures (I don’t claim to know what I’m doing, but I absolutely love it) or going to the beach with my cat. My favourite thing to do with friends is sit outside and talk over a couple of cheap snacks— or walk until we’ve realised how many miles have passed.

I also enjoy sewing and making repairs to my clothes, but am still learning how to properly use the machine I have. On that note, I’m also learning how to cycle in the city— I’ve always loved to cycle, but have no experience in busy areas, so it’s a new territory for me.

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