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!
The United States has been reborn. The election of Barack Obama has put – or reintroduced – the United States to the world stage as a beacon of hope for all people. We have proven that we believe and embody the ideals of equality and equal opportunity and that these ideals are the right of every citizen and not just a few. More importantly, this election is a ray of hope for our nation. We advanced the fight against racism to elect the first black president of the United States. Barack Obama’s election also gives hope to Americans as we witness and feel the stinging affects of the economic and housing crises, the energy crisis and two wars.
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.