Week one, India

This morning we had an amazing two part lecture by Dunu Roy, a Delhi based historian and planner. It really reminded me of the power of chalk drawn maps and diagrams combined with a mastery of the history of a place to tell a compelling, multifaceted story. Many of our students had their minds blown–blown wide open–at the story of how old delhi was transformed first by the british city, and then by westernizationand neoliberalism, and how each change transformed the social and economic relationships, fragmenting and spreading out what had once been close and interconnected webs. I hope that I can live up to his example, even a bit. I realized how long I have been away from history… and makes me want to become a much better historian of the evolution of one place. The microcosm contains the cosmos after all.

IMG_9732Then in the afternoon we visited Dilli Haat, a new market that has been created by NGO’s and the municipal government to provide a forum for craftsmen from across India. We were guided by one of the visionaries that helped create the market and she spoke eloquently to the importance of the market for the survival of handcrafts and good employment. At the market, we were able to get new fancy duds for a wedding at one of our students home stays tonight. At hte market there was also a small comic con going on — bringing the young people together with the crafts people. Time now to take a nap before the wedding tonight!

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Welcome to Delhi

Today is the start of the third full day of our time in Delhi. We’re all still feeling the heavy effects of travel, jet lag, adjustment to new foods, and plenty of stress. The faculty team has settled into our lodging for the Delhi portion: we’re in a guest house, which is generally quite nice, but we have a man who basically lives in our living room as a cook/general servant. We’re all struggling with the awkwardness of having this man living in our place and the different expectations of service… Meanwhile, Kelly–our South African faculty member, who had a root canal when she was back in SA getting her visa, again–seems to have an abces… So we’re getting her more antibiotics.

Yesterday was our first full day. The students had our first class of CUI where we focused on research methods, including listening to the “Yellow Rain” radio-lab broadcast. You should check it out, it’s pretty challenging, but a good illustration about how research and the quest for truth can do a lot of violence to people along the way. It’s something I need to think more about too. Then in the afternoon we had an introduction to the history of Delhi, particularly in the context of partition and then the students headed out on their first neighborhood day in India. I went with a group to “the center of power,” walking with an activist guide from the India Gate to the former governor general’s residence, now presidential palace and the various ministries on either side. It felt like the climactic final stage of giganicism of the beaux-arts city planning age, like the National Mall, but vaster and with far less to do or see around it. It’s actually generally pretty amazing how New Delhi, the colonial city barely feels like a city at all. The streets are surrounded by walled compounds offering hints of lush interiors. Pedestrian facilities and mixed commercial uses are very poor.  We also visited a designated protest area, a sort of surreal experience, like our “free speech zones” but even farther from the center of power. As our guide said, the people are “free to bark like dogs” and people pay about as much attention. But we hear that the protests around corruption and women’s rights will be starting up again next week with the return of the parliamentary session, so that should be interesting for some of our students who are interested in women’s political organizing.

Today we are staying in to catch up on sleep and work while the students go on walking tours of the old city. I’d normally love to go but there is just so much else to do! We’ve got a lot of grading for one, and need to prep some of our assignments and our courses for next week, aaahh!  🙂

Good morning India!

Well, we made it. 32 students, 2 faculty, and 1 fellow. We made all of our connections and we had only a couple students go temporarily missing. We arrived at about 3am local time and with immigration and customs, finally got on a bus to our hotel/hostels around 5-6am. We konked out for a bit and then reassembled for lunch with our country coordinator and then an introduction to the Delhi portion of the program. The faculty team is staying at a different site from the students, so it feels a bit like we’ve gone from fairly tight reins in NYC to wide open independence in Delhi. But we’ll be keeping them plenty busy over the next couple days… 🙂 Now I can barely keep my eyes open so I’m going to head to bed.Image

Day 15: CUI and Neighborhood Day

Start of the second week! After a great dinner with IHP alumni and faculty from across the years we got started with our first session of CUI (Contemporary Urban Issues) which is the big team taught class that integrates all of our field work and also houses the students Comparative Analysis (CA) project, their major primary research independent study. We also did a small debrief on our time in the Rockaways last Friday. Some of the major themes that came out included voluntourism next to people who didn’t think losing their homes was “the most meaningful thing they’d ever done,”  the roll of privilege in relief work and the philosophy of mutual aid, the roll of systems in good or bad responses to disaster, and the government’s roll as insurance agency rather than relief organization. One of our students also raised a good point that the group’s playful approach to their full-body paint suits could be disrespectful when working along side people who use those suites for important reconstruction work.

2013-01-28 14.21.17The rest of the day was devoted to our first “Neighborhood Day,” a time when students are sent out into neighborhoods to explore different areas of the city deeply. Sometimes, as today, we have partner organizations in the neighborhoods. I went with a group of students to the lower east side of Manhattan to an area with a history as a working class immigrant neighborhood, and then for it’s waterfront housing projects, and today as an up an coming trendy “east village.” We met with folks from GOLES (good old lower east side), a community organizing organization that particularly advocates for its members’ low and moderate income housing. 

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We had an interesting conversation, particularly with the Executive Director who captured a lot of the ideas of the urban land ethic: that we have become used to just getting money out of properties. It’s no longer okay to just do well, now you have to be wealthy; that big companies are buying out huge portfolios of tenement buildings, it’s no longer each owner just has a building or two. Very interesting stuff and very well thought out. I will definitely need to reach back there to talk more with them about their work…

Tonight is low key. Going to continue to remember to take breaks, even in the absence of our chief morale officer, Kelly–may she get her visa soon!

 

 

Day 12: Rockaways

2013-01-25 10.53.08Today we had an all day site visit to the Rockaways to examine Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. We met with volunteers from a number of organizations and some Americorps folks, plus a local FEMA official and two women who live in the area and whose houses were rendered uninhabitable by flooding, mold, and other damage. I wish that the students had maybe had a chance to see more visual signs of damage, but it evolved into a really great discussion. The best part came as the women told their stories of loss and struggle, their experience of the relief volunteers, and their difficulty in getting money back from FEMA. After the discussion, we suited up the students (because they didn’t bring painting clothes for their 4-month trip around the world). Over the next three hours we painted the interior of the church. It’s amazing what a big group can do. Then I headed to the airport for my last weekend in Boston before we head out to the world.

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Day 11: First Day of Classes

2013-01-24 14.44.48Thursday blog post:

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.”

Day 10: New York

Well it has been a crazy week as our staffing has quickly changed. One of our faculty has left the program and a new one is being brought online this week. There area million pieces to prepare and tomorrow is our first faculty session (Kelly’s) so we’ll get our first introduction the academic portions of the trip. Today was our first site visits as well. We sent out six groups to a wide range of organizations working in diverse neighborhoods of the City. I took a group to the Center for Urban Pedagogy – a really interesting civic design nonprofit and had a great afternoon with the students, and am now quite wiped. I do feel like one thing that was missing that day was the voice of the private market, the developer, the urban booster. How are we going to be effective critics if we never meet or engage with those who think things are fine or that more is better? Hopefully this is a perspective that we can work in over the semester…