Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Helen Kwan watches a small town become world class



I recently met with Helen Kwan, a senior in Urban Studies concentrating in Urban Society and Social Change. We talked about her recently completed honors thesis, which she will be presenting at the Urban Studies Honors Thesis Coloquium on Thursday, June 2nd. Congrats, Helen!

What was the topic of her research?
The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a case study of how a host community responds to mega event.  The main findings were these large-scale projects are specific to each community and dependent on the type of event, who is running it, and the amount of citizen collaboration. Lexington was interesting in that it didn’t place a bid to host the Games—the state did, which passed along the responsibility of infrastructure improvement to local government.  This allowed city improvements that had been stalled to be given a much higher priority and finally get put in place.  Helen saw that the Games had lasting political, social, and physical legacies.  Political figures that weren’t running on any platform related to the Games are associated with the successes and failures of the event because of how dominant the project was for local government. Controversial land use decisions have resulted in an empty lot in the middle of downtown that was supposed to be the site of an enormous hotel.  On the other hand, downtown Lexington now has great public spaces for entertainment, farmers markets, and a horse park that is capable of hosting huge horse and trade shows.  Unlike the largely-abandoned facilities in Athens following the Olympic Games, the facilities are appropriate to Lexington and will continue to be used in the future.

Why did she choose this topic?
Most important to Helen was picking a topic that was personally relevant to her.  Since coming to college, she has become more interested in Kentucky culture and more involved in state-pride, and she knew how symbolic the Games were for Lexington.  The FEI World Equestrian Games are held every four years, and had never been hosted by the United States, so it was emblematic of Lexington’s position as the “Horse Capital of the World.  Helen was not previously familiar with or interested in horses, but this topic gave her a way to connect to her community and observe the response to such a large-scale event. 

Her description of the week before it was due in one word:

What part of the process was most rewarding?
The process of data collection was the most interesting.  She was able to talk to people about their experiences and what they thought about the changes the city was undergoing.  Helen did her research through an internship with the Lexington Downtown Development Authority and got to work closely with the executive director, who was able to connect her to many stakeholders like business owners and transportation experts.   Wishes she could go back and ask clarifying questions because in research collection it’s hard to know what’s important. She also sought out more critical viewpoints of the project.  These varied conversations were very rewarding in that she got to interact with those who the project would be affecting instead of solely focusing on the academia and theory behind community organizing.

What advice did she have for juniors/sophomores planning on doing research?
Don’t overcommit yourself and know what you’re getting yourself into.  Meet with advisor often and set deadlines for yourself, because writing a thesis involves a good deal of self-motivation. Get to know others doing honors theses and meet with them (she and a friend had “transcribing parties,” for example).

Plans for next year?
Helen is coterming in Communications and plans to finish in the Winter. She will also be an RA in Roth. 


This post is part of an Urbanter series spotlighting Urban Studies seniors and their honors theses. Contact Helen at hkwan007@stanford.edu. Contact Urbanter at urbanter@gmail.com




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