[by Janet Li ’12]
A house decked out in Mardi Gras swag in the French Quarter.
How did you spend your spring break?
Eight students in the class 11.027, City to City, spent our week doing ground research for four different planning projects: working for a neighborhood advocacy group, blight mapping, collecting data on transit systems, and examining urban design standards in New Orleans.
Course 11—Urban Studies and Planning—is one of the smaller majors at MIT, and it is an absolutely awesome field. MIT’s planning department is one of the best in the nation and encompasses a variety of different specializations, ranging from urban design to international development to environmental policy, and more.
I joined course 11 as a junior and have been loving it ever since. 11.027 may be one of my favorite classes I’ve taken so far, though, and much of that has to do with the field work we did in New Orleans this past week.
New Orleans is an eclectic, raw, beautiful city that is slowly but surely revitalizing today post Katrina. Much reconstruction work is still being done, and that’s what makes it such an interesting city to study. As rebuilding continues, we as planners must find the balance between returning the city and its fiercely loyal residents to their former home, and grasping the opportunity to restructure and redesign NOLA so that it may continue to prosper for many years to come.
I was part of the transportation group. Each day, we worked with alums from the MIT master’s program in city planning to ride and experience the different types of public transportation in New Orleans, from buses to streetcars to the ferry. We biked around on our last day, interviewing locals about their experiences with the system and recording our observations about some of the problems with signage and bus shelters (i.e., the lack thereof) on routes throughout the city.
When we weren’t working, we spent hours exploring and walking around the city. New Orleans is such a conglomerate, a fusion of various cultures, and the vast distinctions between neighborhoods definitely reflect that.
We lived in the French Quarter, just a block away from Bourbon, a historic street known for its madcap wild nightlife. Our first night in New Orleans happened to coincide with Saint Joseph’s Day, and we experienced a procession of hundreds of exultant, flamboyantly dressed Italian American men giving away red, white, and green flowers, beads, and garters for kisses.
Another night was spent on Frenchmen Street, an area with a distinctly European feel. Live music is everywhere in New Orleans, but especially on Frenchmen, and we had a lovely dinner at The Maison while enjoying the soulful beats of a jazz trio.
Art is everywhere in NOLA, from the decadent parade floats that seem to be a year-long phenomenon; to the musicians who make their living playing on the streets; to the beautiful galleries of professional artists; to the architectural wonders of the buildings, both new and old; to the increase in intricate street art done by graffiti artists after Hurricane Katrina. All lend themselves to the elaborate, colorful tapestry of art which forms an enormous part of the culture of New Orleans.
Art on a Canal Street Bus shelter.
Live street musicians performing an instrumental cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.
The controversial, but beautiful, houses built through Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation.
The entire class was blown away by NOLA’s vitality and very special way of life, and many of us are hoping to come back down to New Orleans for the summer.
What are your summer plans, and how did you experience art over your spring break?