Posted November 18th 2009 at 2:35 pm by
in New Orleans

New Orleans, Planning, Students, Reflection


It’s interesting, as a CoLab employee, to have interviewed, recorded, edited, and now watch this piece.  As a student, I was also a NOLA fellow, but back then we weren’t called “NOLA fellows.” In summer of 2007, I went with a dozen other MIT students to New Orleans to labor under then newly appointed recovery czar, Ed Blakely.

Over the course of 7 weeks, we drafted 23 target neighborhood redevelopment “plans” (more like priority lists) for Blakely and the mayor.  It seemed like an inane undertaking when first presented to us, but we threw ourselves into the task, seeing that there was really no one else there to do the work.  Blakely put us young idealists to good use during our short assignment.  In fact, I doubt that anyone will ever entrust me with that much responsibility so immediately ever again.

That summer, I devoted the most love and attention to the plan we wrote for the Lafitte/Treme neighborhood. Bringing back the vacant Robert’s grocery store at Broad and Bienville was high on the priority list.  One afternoon, while foot-surveying properties in the 90 degree heat, we stopped to chat with a local homeowner.   He said he had to drive 45 minutes to go grocery shopping.  Sadly, he may still be driving that distance to feed himself and his family.

Nevertheless, I’m encouraged by the fact that this store might actually re-open.  I think this is the third or fourth time that MIT students have committed themselves to this effort.  I’m hopeful that this time we’ve reached the tipping point.

One response to “New Orleans, Planning, Students, Reflection”

  1. Dayna Cunningham says:

    I began working at CoLab in 2007, just before the summer when Amy and her classmates went to New Orleans. The New Orleans program was the first grant we received. Peter Teague, from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, heard that we had a group of students dying to go to New Orleans but no money and he agreed to a grant on the spot. Before Peter agreed to give us a grant, it was taking forever to identify a funding source. I was amazed at the commitment of the students. We told the students that we would try our best to get them money, but most went to New Orleans without a guarantee that they would get paid, and by the time the money worked its way through the MIT system, many of them did not get paid until they had been down there for weeks. They did amazing work nonetheless. Amy Stitely was known for grabbing strangers in the halls of ORM and forcing them out in the streets to do foot surveys. In the end, they helped put together the plan that became ORM’s submission to the City. The following Fall we did a reflection with students on that experience and learned a lot about what might have helped students better prepare for their work in New Orleans. A big issue was the students wishing they had had a better grasp of the role of race in explaining local politics and the dynamics of recovery (or lack thereof). Former Berkeley Mayor and MIT visiting scholar, Gus Newport, came to the reflection and helped students think some of the issues through.