Arrival in Ahmedabad

This morning we arrived in Ahmedabad after a 14 hour train journey across India. Despite the cramped sleeping conditions, and the nagging worry about your laptop stowed under the bunks over there, it was a good journey. The train is the best way to see India, as it takes you through the cities, into the hectic development of the periphery, past red-brick villages and dried out fields of cotton. I had a while to think this morning, as the red sun rose over the dusty fields, the train rocking and the landscape rolling away, about home and our work here. I miss home–Melinda, the cats, our lovely apartment together–and the other intangibles of home: a less peopled and stressful day. India retains that frenetic, throbbing sense of humanity in all it’s forms crashing together. It can threaten to overwhelm your ability to process, to cope. But I am excited by our work–my students are turning in their first assignment this weekend: a mapping project of their home-stay neighborhoods. They’ve turned out some really impressive work; I may post images of them when i have a chance to study them more closely. I’ve been really gratified at how the project has brought out their creative energies, pushed them to look closely at the area around where they live, and put them in touch with a key planning instrument. Looking forward, my next class will open up the conversation about Big Plans, looking at Burnham in Chicago, Haussman in Paris, and then the rise and fall of High Modernism in Brazilia, Chandigar, and elsewhere through James Scott’s competing lenses of le Corbusier and Jane Jacobs. But I’m still scheming on ways to make things more personal. First of all, I’m going to stimulate a debate in my class about using big vision plans, centrally administered to transform existing cities or create new ones. It’s a problematic story–I’m not sure there is a right answer–good or bad–though certainly plenty of both. But second, my devious scheme is to transform the classroom into a modernist experiment. The model right now is to rearrange the seats such that they are all in radiating lines from the doorway. Possibly leave their bags by the door, and then make them go back to get their notebooks, etc. or some other separation uses analog. I’m loving my teaching and the experiential learning. I am increasingly interested in the idea of a “City Semester” in the US–a traveling semester course in the US that focuses on urban governance and sustainability.

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