It has been two months since I completed my first year of the Master of City Planning at MIT. Returning home to Baltimore, I felt exhausted from the rigors of the program, accomplished because of the mere fact that I completed a year of said program, and enlightened by the many class discussions, projects and experiences that I enjoyed – and not enjoyed – during the school year. I also returned to Baltimore excited about the project that I would work on as a Mayoral Fellow in the Department of Transportation.
The semester has kicked into high gear and I am drowning in a sea of reading, written assignments,map-making, and special projects. Once in a while, I manage to emerge and dock (I know, enough of the nautical metaphors) at a lecture – or as in the last couple of weeks – at aconference. It is great to stepout of academia once in a while and hear what is going on in the realworld. I had the opportunity to attend two conferences over the past month. One of them – The City from Below Conference – I attended this weekend when I returned home to Baltimore for spring break.
I am enjoying the last day of my Independent Activities Period (IAP) – the period after winter break in which all students at MIT can take one of many non-credit or for-credit course offerings at MIT, set up a winter externship, or just do nothing. This amounts to six weeks of bliss!
In the dawn of the New Year, I cannot help but reflect on my pivotal moments in 2008, and look forward to 2009. I wrapped up – no, survived – my first semester in the Master of City Planning program at MIT. I am being a little dramatic here, but the program is really very rigorous. One thing I learned was that with such a rigorous program there is no need to make it unnecessarily more challenging. When I arrived in Cambridge, I was very excited to be in school again – I graduated from college ten years ago – and I registered for five and a half classes. Three and a half of the classes were required and two were electives. It was recommended that we take only one elective, but I was psyched and I was going to take MIT by storm!
One of the most interesting things that I have learned in school thus far is the history of the urban renewal program. As a budding urban planner, I have often used the term “urban renewal” interchangeably with “urban revitalization” to describe the process of neighborhood improvement via economic and housing development. Regardless of the term I used, I was very clear that revitalization – or renewal – was a catch-22. The implementation of business and housing developments would jumpstart a neighborhood deemed blighted and consequently, only affluent residents could afford to enjoy the amenities of the revitalized neighborhood.
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.
This week will be my first full week of classes at MIT; however, I have actually been here for three. I arrived into Cambridge at the end of August to attend the weeklong department orientation, which was as orientations are – full of very important yet-easy-to-forget information. Alone, the pressure of learning nearly 65 names can induce periodic episodes of amnesia.