Today felt like the first real day of school. First off we had a debrief from yesterday’s “Agency Day” where students visited five organizations working on different issues around the city. Students had some really good reflections and connections, but we still have a lot to learn about making the most of site visits. A pitfall one group identified is just talking to “people like you” (in their case—young, ivy league, English-speaking), and not engaging with, as they did not, an older, Chinese-speaking, community organizer who had lived in Chinatown for decades. The students are also still in a school/analysis mode of looking for the organizational facts, resources, practices, etc. and struggling to ask for and listen for great stories, visual details, etc.
Up next we had a great panel discussion on planning and design issues in NYC. In particular, Peter Mullen from Friends of the Highline really brought home the complexities of planning and design in cities—the need to balance government institutions, community groups, and private developers/property owners. It turned into a great discussion about replicability of urban interventions vs. uniqueness, as well as small-scale, ecological interventions, verses large-scale change and opportunities to balance preservation with change. In the end change is inevitable. Cities that cannot change are dead or dying. Our task is to guide and shape change while accepting our limitations, the need for timing and luck, and so forth. Really great introduction the many of the issues we’ll be engaging in in my class.
After lunch we had another speaker, an urban sociologist/criminologist who spoke about the history of policing, particularly in New York. It was an interesting mix of analysis and critique, but from an insider’s perspective… so it’s not alright, but maybe it’s okay? Anyway, in addition to a great connection to their Agency Day partner’s relationship to the police and to issues of urban order, criminality of ordinary life, and police culture/institutions which we will likely get to examine as the semester goes on.
In the afternoon, Kelly had the first class of her Politics and Development course and headed back to the hotel to work on finalizing our schedule for India and other logistics. It was a long, long day and helped us realize that part of the challenge is wanting to attend everything that happens during the day… but also making time to manage logistics, travel, lesson planning, and grading… it’s going to be an interesting challenge! Fortunately, while Katie and I sometimes have a hard time unplugging from work and stress, Kelly is a great moral officer and reminds us to take back the hours of our evenings. As the program saying goes, “it’s a marathon, better pace yourself.”