IHP Fall 2015 Cities in the 21st Century: New York

Dearest Friends and Family,


Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina! We have been here an entire week now, and are more than excited to share with you some of our favorite and most memorable moments from our two weeks in New York City. Here we go!


After months of planning and excitement, we landed in NYC and met up for the Welcome Reception in one of the five boroughs, Queens. (Of course, as we write about it today, that moment feels like years ago!) We discussed possible questions, the wonderful and complex history of IHP, and our own feelings about embarking on a four month journey alongside strangers. We were thrilled to discuss our shared interests in exploring the relationship between social justice and the built environment, developing a critical lens to better understand urban problems through comparative study.


That week, we delved right into the beginnings of our comparative analysis with New York City as our first of four cities with lectures such as “NYC as Quintessential New Deal City and the Fiscal Crisis of the 1970s.” From there, we explored the City through “Neighborhood Days” visiting one of five communities in the Lower East Side (Manhattan), Crown Heights (Brooklyn), Jackson Heights (Queens), and Mott Haven in the Bronx. We heard firsthand from community organizations about how rapid change and new development have affected their spaces, and how different groups work to solve conflict, provide resources, and build social capital. Additionally, we navigated Lower Manhattan through a group scavenger hunt of more than a dozen historical sites after visiting the 9/11 memorial.


Along with these memorable learning experiences, our group also enjoyed much bonding and community building through the Learning Community and student led Person of the Day activities. In the Learning Community, we discussed the ways through which we would deal with communal conflict, positive ways of interacting, and our overall expectations of the group. Finally, we created a living list of 21 guidelines that we use to guide our group dynamic. Some of our favorite segments include: “Compliment with the heart. Take space & make space. Address issues immediately, respectfully and directly. And above all, be kind.” After clarifying our communal values, we were ready for the weekend.


During the weekend, some members of the group attended a tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to learn more about New York’s industrial and war time history and a Senegalese drum performance to get a preview of topics covered in our ‘Culture and Society’ class when we travel to Senegal. Our second week was filled with equally impressive immersive experiences as well as great lecturers and classes taught by the local and traveling faculty. From Dutch settlers through 1970s disinvestment and into today’s housing crisis, our courses on New York’s planning and social histories greatly supplemented our experiences outside of the classroom. We began to extract some of the reoccurring themes of the program including inequality and invisibility in urban environments. We had the opportunity to go to the executive floor of the New York City Housing Authority and speak with various directors within the agency. This was all made possible through an IHP alum! And we concluded that day with small dinners around the City with various other alumni, gaining insight into their experiences on the program and how they’ve applied their comparative analysis skills in their respective fields. Alumni consistently praised the time spent in program.


We also got the chance to hear a different perspective while talking to Related Companies, currently developing the “Hudson Yards,” the largest private real estate development in the United States! The 10 year project, bridging three New York neighborhoods, is a technological feat. The huge space is being built over the train tracks entering New York from New Jersey as they converge into Penn Station, requiring forward thinking in the case of new train tracks, sustainable practices, and how to bring ‘green’ into the city. New land mass is still being added to the city!


In order to better grasp contrasting images of the city and navigate conversations about race, gender, inequality, and privilege, the students and faculty engaged in anti-oppression workshop in which we came to better understand our individual positionalities in the shared space. The process was difficult, and required great courage from a group comprised mostly of 19 and 20 year olds who had met just a week prior. Identifying societal injustices was unsettling, and revealed significant vulnerability. We confronted these feelings and turned them into ongoing conversations that we’ll likely carry much farther than just this program.


Our last act in New York was a massive debriefing session in which the class tried to synthesize the main information garnered during the two weeks in New York City, focusing on power distribution and neoliberal policies exemplified in the highly diverse, highly unequal city.

The launch in New York City allowed us to draft initial questions that we can continue contemplating for the rest of the semester, and we would like to thank all of our guest lecturers and site visit hosts for sharing their knowledge. We cannot wait to continue building on these experiences with a wide variety of voices, starting with our host families and fellow urban citizens in Buenos Aires.


Here’s to the three months to come,


IHP Cities Fall 2



IHP Cities in the 21st Century (Fall 2) Program at the New York City Housing Authority with NYCHA staff.

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