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Martin Leung
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Class of 2013

Martin Leung ’13 considers himself fortunate to have already discovered his passion for urban and regional studies (his major) and real estate (his minor). And now, with diploma in hand, he has his whole career ahead of him. Cornell convinced Leung he was on the right path—but perhaps he was on the right path all along. At a young age, he took his Legos very seriously.

Leung had always been interested in cities and the built environment. His studies and internship experiences strengthened those interests and taught him that urban planning comprises more than just the actual construction of development projects. It’s about promoting innovative design, being creative with public policy, and understanding what a community needs.

Big Red vision

A successful urban planner is a leader and a visionary in all capacities. Leung offered the Cornell community his leadership and vision by working to get Big Red Bikes, now a successful campus bike-share program, up and running. It was a major component of his university career.

“I remember when I heard about bike sharing for the first time. I was struck by how transformative the idea was. I thought, ‘I want to help make this real because this is exactly what we need at Cornell,’” Leung says. He was elected co-president of the organization his sophomore year.

The Big Red Bikes program is modeled after other bike shares in larger cities. Leung’s goal was for students to realize that biking is not only a recreational activity but also an environmentally friendly way to get from one place to another. Big Red Bikes grew quickly. Within five months of its launch in May 2011, there were 1,500 new members. Today there are about 3,000.

Built environments near and far

Leung has lived and worked in more places than most students, and he’s experienced differences in the built environment of each location. His first big move occurred when he was young and his family moved from Hong Kong to McMinnville, Oregon.
When he first moved to Oregon, an aunt remarked that 500 cars in a supermarket parking lot represented a lot of people. To Leung, that same parking lot seemed empty.

“That was one of many moments when I realized that Oregon was a very different place. Obviously the people and the culture, but the built environment, too,” he says.

Ithaca and its nearby towns and cities offered yet another setting to broaden Leung’s perspective. As part of Design Connect, an interdisciplinary, student-run consulting organization, he worked on a Main Street revitalization project in Interlaken, New York, and on the mixed-use redevelopment of a shopping mall near Syracuse, New York.

Adding to that real-world experience, Leung held internships in Washington, D.C. and New York City. In fall 2012, as part of the Cornell in Washington program, he worked with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, where he helped federal agencies integrate sustainable practices into their daily operations. Prior to that, he worked with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a World Trade Center Redevelopment intern.

“The World Trade Center is, I think, the most interesting and most complicated planning project in the country,” Leung says. He considers his time working on the redevelopment project to be a dream come true.

“I walked onto the construction site the first day, and it was really exciting for me because I had never been on a construction site before. Studying what I study, it was great to see everything in action,” he says.

Leung also studied abroad in Rome for one semester and participated in a workshop in one of the city’s suburbs. He and his group talked to residents about the introduction of a new high-speed rail system and its impact on the character of the neighborhood.

“It was important to see not only the beautiful architecture and art in Rome, but also the contemporary issues that actual Romans are dealing with from day to day,” Leung says.

Putting it all in perspective

Leung knows there’s no way to choose or create the best city in the world. “Each city has its own personality,” he says. “It depends on your perspective.”

But he can picture an ideal city of the future. It will be built from the collaborative efforts of the public and private sectors, and it will be a place that balances economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Leung has experienced many places and cultures, and he believes that the broad perspective he has gained will help him in his career.

“I remember not liking life in a small town when I first moved to Oregon, but now I realize that it was a great experience for me to have,” he says. “It forced me to learn how to empathize with people who are different from me, understand their perspectives, and see where they’re coming from.”

In the short term, Leung wants to focus on learning all he can about real estate and development. In the long term, he hopes to leave a legacy.

Leung wants to start a company or nonprofit organization that will shape the built environment in positive ways—supporting the local economy, the environment, and the people who live there.

“I’m not in a position to do it now,” he laughs. “But hopefully, I can tell you differently in 20 or 30 years.”

There’s no doubt he’ll succeed.

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