IHP Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics (Spring)

2012 New York City, USA Letter Home

By Trustees Fellow Maggie La Rochelle, with input from Nick Allen, Sam Askin, Fiona Hoffman-Harland, Matt Schreiber, and Delaney Workman. Thanks to Emily Bowe and Julia Knoeff for photos.

It’s hard to imagine that less than three weeks ago we were packing our bags to begin IHP, trying to decide between the shirts that now lay quietly in drawers at home and the ones we wore today to romp the streets of Delhi. More amazing still is that between then and now was New York City – THE New York City, with its number 1 train running like a central nerve through the Upper West Side, shuttling us around town; its uncharacteristically beautiful January weather; its buzzing energy; and five dynamic boroughs. With the quiet dedication of country coordinator Jocelyne Chait grounding us, we spent two foundational weeks in NYC, splitting our time between our classroom in International House and our classroom of the city.

Highlights of the New York City program included exploratory activities in the city’s unique boroughs and neighborhoods. In our “Discover New York!” activity, we broke up into six small groups to orient ourselves with a sliver of the city. One group rode the length of the number 7 train all the way to the bustling markets of Flushing. Another group rode the newly operating East River ferries, and still another explored “nature in the city” through Riverside and Central parks and by walking the length of the increasingly popular Highline, one story above the streets of SoHo.  Each group pursued these activities with enthusiasm and openness, eager to enjoy and learn from the city firsthand.

We visited and spoke with six agencies in different boroughs of the city, including the Bronx River Alliance, which leads community-based programs to clean and access the Bronx River; the Staten Island Department of City Planning; and City Harvest, a growing food security organization. These visits gave us the chance to connect with the folks who have invested their careers in New York City and its people, and whose perspectives offered a deeper view into the neighborhoods we visited.

Students enjoying Neighborhood Day in St. George, Staten Island

Just as importantly, the launch of the program in NYC was a chance to get to know one another: this unique blend of 34 students, four faculty, and country hosts who will spend the next four months together. We come from cities and towns spanning the United States, from Orcas Island, Washington to Manhattan, and from international homes as far as the Netherlands, Singapore, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, and South Africa. Our group is full of energy, thoughtfulness, and humor. Even with packed days of programming, we spent evenings and weekends further exploring together in small, morphing groups, going out to dinners, celebrating the first birthday in the group, and trying to follow through with every statement that began with, “Hey, we should go to ________!” It was exhausting and exhilarating.

In a debrief session about our Discover New York activity, students were asked to complete the sentence “New York is a place where…” In other words, what’s the pulse of New York City from what you’ve seen? What makes the city tick? The result, of course, was a poem. We’ve included it below. All in all, the New York City launch was an invigorating beginning to Cities Spring 2012.

Panoramic view from the Brooklyn Bridge

New York City is a Place Where
Fast serious leisure
Diverse, diverse, diverse and driven
Clever New Yorkers, new space in an old shell
Pushing access to nature, negotiating and affirming natural connections
Immigrants recreate home cities
New York is a canvas for all New Yorkers
Constantly changing, constantly moving
Dropping in and out of different worlds
Full of contradictions
Pride in an area
"People are nice!"
Both a destination and an image
New Yorkers live in art and inhabit it
A place of evolution and time
Made by the public and for the public
Diversity, creation, process, complexity
Loud or still

We arrived in Delhi safely and smoothly a few days ago, and already we’ve joined our homestay families, explored four sites of Delhi that represent a few of its many layers of history, and received introductory lectures on Delhi’s long and storied political history and its course of city and urban planning. Stay tuned for the next letter home about leg two in Delhi, in just a few weeks!

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Credits: 16

Duration: Spring, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
USA, Brazil, India, South Africa

Prerequisites: Previous college-level coursework and/or other preparation in urban studies, anthropology, political science, or other related fields is strongly recommended but not required. Learn More...

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