Last Thursday night marked the end of an intense two-week team project in my Gateway: Planning (a kind of Introduction to Planning) course. In this project, my classmates and I assumed the role of consultants to a fictitious working group of the real-life New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA) and prepared and delivered oral briefings on key challenges to post-Katrina housing recovery.
MIT has worked very closely with New Orleans in its post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. Many students have worked in practicums during there tenures at the Institute and are still on the ground in New Orleans today. The catastrophe of Katrina has presented New Orleans with many challenges, but it has also presented the city with a great opportunity to rebuild smarter and stronger socially, economically, and politically.
For our project, we were presented with four to five questions for which we had to analyze an enormous amount of information, which included the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) and several other readings. The questions, which covered topics ranging from development patterns (scattering versus clustering) to the political and implementation considerations of the recommendations that we – each individual team – provided to the NORA working group. The two weeks after we received the assignment were filled with team meetings that ran at least three hours at a time on the weekends and on late nights. We digested the mountain of information in our readings, analyzed what could be the best courses of action and the implications for these actions, and put the information into a presentation. The process as I write it now seems prettier linear, but it wasn't such a tidy process. We talked for hours across a number of sessions just to nail down what we believed were the best courses of action. We worked endlessly to put together slides that accurately represented our findings and we formalized how we would effectively state our recommendations in a presentation to the working group. All three of these actions could happen during one meeting!
After many deliberations – teamwork has its benefits and challenges – and a dry run of our presentations, we presented the final presentation to the NORA "working group." The presentations were to be delivered professionally – we wore suits and gave our presentation using very polished slides and handouts. The presentations were scheduled in the evenings, which gave the air of a covert action or the types of deliberations that might happen behind closed doors late at night. All of these factors made me quite nervous, but I think my team did a great job that night.
Now, with this project ended I will soon start working on another project based on New Orleans. This time the client is a real organization, and the recommendations that my team provides to the client could potentially be used in the organization. I might even have a chance to meet with the client onsite in New Orleans. This is all very exciting, but more than that it is the type of hands-on experience from which I learn best. This also assures me that I am in the right place, here at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning.