Final presentation in Fields Corner

Last Wednesday, the DUSP team presented their work to Viet-AID´s Board of Directors and staff, members of other organizations from the area (including Green Dorchester, Fields Corner Main Streets and MAPC) and a couple of community members. After more than three months of research and analysis, the students explained their proposals to achieve a more sustainable and equitable neighborhood in Fields Corner.

Elena presents the proposals regarding Economic Development

Following a brief explanation of the guiding principles for their work (the ‘sustainability framework’) and a summary of their key findings about the current state of the neighborhood, DUSP students went on to describe their proposals in four key areas: Existing Housing, New Housing, Economic Development and the Public Realm. For each area, they identified short-term and long-term strategies, as well as the role Viet-AID could play in pursuing those ideas and which other groups and organizations it could partner with for each proposal.

The discussion that followed shed light on several interesting points. First, the question of who has the capacity to implement the proposals. Some of them -such as the construction of new affordable housing- could be directly undertaken by Viet-AID, while for others, Viet-AID would need to partner with other organizations. Furthermore, in the case of most Public Realm proposals, Viet-AID’s role would be to foster a conversation within the community about the desired changes, to then help it mobilize to push city agencies to undertake the projects.

Also important was the conversation about housing affordability levels. Some people had expressed concerns about “bringing in poor people to the neighborhood” by creating more affordable housing units. However, as Dan explained in his presentation, given that the average renting household in Fields Corner has an annual income of $33,500, new affordable housing would serve incomes already well represented in the neighborhood, and in fact would help prevent displacement for existing residents.

Another interesting debate revolved around the issue of parking. Evelyn, from Fields Corner Main Streets, pointed out that parking was one of the main concerns in the neighborhood, and that reducing the number of parking spaces would be highly controversial. This comment fostered a debate about how realistic the plan was. But as Jim and others pointed out, this plan is an opportunity for Fields Corner in general, and Viet-AID in particular, to think about the issues facing the neighborhood within a broader picture and to create a path towards a more sustainable and equitable neighborhood. Understanding the connections among issues is crucial to solve them: if people are concerned about air quality and asthma rates in the neighborhood, it is important to open the debate about the amount of parking that is needed in an inner city neighborhood with great access to public transportation.

The GreenHouse team with Aspasia and Nam from Viet-AID, and staff from other local organizations

Throughout the semester, we have struggled in class to define a conceptual and practical sustainability framework for our analysis and proposals. We have long discussed what sustainability means at the local level, at the neighborhood scale. From the feedback we got on Wednesday, it was clear how difficult and slow change is, but also how important it is to work with communities and local organizations in order to pursue it.


You can check out the final presentation here, the full report will be ready very soon.

Final Presentation May 16

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Reflections on Our Final Meeting

Thanks once again to our colleagues in Madrid for sharing their project with us. It has been a great learning experience to discuss our projects this spring, and I know our group learned a lot from you, and that your work has inspired us to work more on physical design proposals for our site.

I was very interested to see that the Madrid class added analysis of access to green space, employment, and activities in the larger District, zooming out from the clearly defined neighborhood they had been analyzing up to that point. In addition, they expanded their study boundaries to consider a housing development that is planned for the old barracks site next door. Our groups struggled throughout the semester on how to define the neighborhood boundaries, and how to understand the relationship between Fields Corner and the rest of Boston. I am curious to see whether the Madrid team’s consideration of the larger context around Ciudad de Los Angeles will change their understand of or proposals for the neighborhood going forward. I also wonder whether it is more effective to consider the neighborhood in context from the beginning, as we did, or to really focus on your site of study and then zoom out, as they did.

Since Tuesday’s skype meeting is our last, I may not get an answer to this question now. But I wish the Madrid team the best of luck, and thank you for the conversations!

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Final Reflection

Reaction to the final presentation:

It was great to see that the Madrid team expanded its analysis beyond the physical limits of their neighborhood. Still, I’m skeptical about their determination that this new development will have little impact on Ciudad de Los Angeles other than improving physical connections to the industrial area. My guess is that this development will have a major impact on their neighborhood, as well as on their proposed interventions. Won’t adding 1,700 new housing units (probably around 5,000 new residents) totally change the character of the area, from the urban form, to the impact on business activity within Ciudad de Los Angeles, to the amount of stress on infrastructure? And even though this plan has already been approved, and the student team doesn’t have any say in its design, hasn’t it been a missed opportunity not to have given much thought as to how their interventions might complement or counteract some of the impacts from the new major development next door? In sum, I’m glad that the Madrid team began to look beyond its neighborhood’s physical boundaries, though I’m not sure they have the tools or analytical framework to assess the possible economic, social, physical, and environmental impacts of a 1,700-unit development.


What I learned from the semester-long exchange:

The approaches to planning in Spain and the US are apparently quite different. Although I believe other forms of planning do exist in Europe – for instance, “social planning” and “social housing” – my impression from this exchange is that Spanish planning culture emphasizes physical design, and places the planner in the role of a top-down technician. Although planners in the US certainly haven’t forgotten physical design, and many today are pushing for a rebirth of physical planning, the approach to planning in the US is apparently more interdisciplinary and less purely top-down. In addition, this exchange brought out some obvious differences in approaching urban sustainability – as well as defining what constitutes sustainability, and how that definition emerges out of the approach to planning (e.g., a physical approach, a social and economic programming approach, etc).


How this kind of exchange could be improved:

Teaching us to swim by throwing us in the deep end isn’t always a bad approach to skill-building, but I think we could have gotten a bit more out of the presentations if each student team had first presented its basic approach to planning, what it was trying to achieve, how it defined sustainability, and other basic introductory information. We were able to glean answers to some of these questions throughout the course of the exchange, but I think we could have avoided a few head-scratching moments with a bit more info to set the stage at the front end.

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Notes on the last meeting

The last meeting having been completed I would like to congratulate all the participants. I feel the need to thank both groups for this experience. It was really interesting to take part in this workshop for a number of reasons.

Working in this project gave me the chance to broaden my knowledge in a variety of academic disciplines and to cooperate with a lot of people with different academic profiles and backgrounds.  It was impressive for me to hear the different ways of analyses, approaches and methodologies of study. Furthermore, for this work I had the opportunity to become familiar with different types of neighborhood associations and policies in retrofitting not only because of Boston’s work, which was really interesting, but also as a result of my participation in Madrid’s group.

In comparison with my country’s reality (i.e. Greece), I think that the differences are huge. Both U.S and Spain (although the latter is a European country like Greece), have different policies but what is very fascinating is that in Greece the institutions of neighborhood associations do not exist in this form and definitely they don’t have the power to initiate procedures like retrofitting of neighborhoods.

Continuing, I would like to underline some of the useful things that I have learned during the cooperation with the MIT team. Firstly, the value of defining your goals and deciding towards which direction you want to develop your neighborhood. Furthermore, the establishment of a strategy line that explains thoroughly how you can meet your final target.

No doubt there are quite a few differences between Ciudad de Los Angeles and Fields Corner and also differences between our strategies, but on the other hand it would be an omission not to mention a few similarities between our works. The environmental perspective affected the progress and the final proposals of each team. In addition, I think that both of us have recognized the key role of the neighborhood associations, although each of them has different characteristics.

In conclusion, I would like to express one more time my pleasure for this experience. I really hope that this cooperation will continue not only between the universities but also between the participants, in the future. I wish to everyone all the best with your final work and I hope to meet you soon!

Best regards

Maria Datseri

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Final Thoughts on Collaborative Studios

Congratulations to both teams on (almost) finishing up this semester’s collaborative studios!  It has been a very unique and interesting experience for me not only to extend scopes and horizons when creating the intervention strategies, but also to understand and probe into practices in different planning contexts.

At first glance, the two studios have several differences in our sites, methodologies and intervention strategies. I have captured and summarized some differences in the following table:

Fields Corner Ciudad de Los Ángeles
Site Unclear boundary; the team spent a long time investigating and defining our site Clear boundary, with a specific focus intervention area
Client Community Development Corporation Neighborhood Association
Housing Stock Mostly built before 1940s; triple-deckers and single-family housing Built in 1950s and 1960s; multi-family apartments
Residents Large percentage of immigrants and minority population with language barriers Households with lower income; senior citizens
Methodological Approach Dialogues and interviews with clients and stakeholder organizations with extensive research on census and socioeconomic data Studies on best practices in Europe with detailed analysis of buildings and open space
Interventions Focusing on capacity building for client and identifying available resources; emphasizing four target areas with sustainability framework Focusing on physical and design interventions; covering a wide range of topics

These differences are further embedded in the planning contexts of the two countries.  As Patricia has said earlier in our teleconference, planners should have the exposure to different planning practices and the flexibility and adaptability to work in various contexts. I am grateful that this parallel studio exercise is a good platform for students from both countries to understand more about each other’s planning practices through concrete, real-world examples.  This knowledge and experience is crucial to prepare us to become the top planning practitioners, policy makers and/or scholars in this ever globalizing world.

At the same time, it is clear that the two studios also share many similarities, and we have learned a lot from each other to further improve our work.  Both of the two teams have identified the importance of sustainability and community outreach, and have substantially applied these guidelines in our final proposals.

Best wishes to our final works in the rest of the semester, and good luck with DUoPT team’s next community meeting in the fall!

- Bill


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Last meeting, Ideas to improve the workshop

Hi everyone!

First I want to congratulate you all for the work, the ideas and the project, and to thank you for this oportunity. I really want this to work more times, so I have been thinking about how to improve the workshop for next experiences.

I have realized that my first and more important problem has been to understand well enough Fields Corner, and the way things are done there.

So in order to solve this problem, that I think I’m not the only one who have it, I propose that it would be interesting to make a change of study cases in one part of the analysis; so one group have to be involved in the circumstances that are in other team case. Maybe just a first perception in photographs, numbers and drawings, an effort of comparison or contrast in the problematic and the issues.

Besides, another thing I have missed, is the lack of points in common one case with another, so  we really have learnt a lot of things about how to approach an special case like that in regeneration and retrofitting there in US, but I would have been more fed back in the study of nearer cases.

At last, I am very glad to be a part of this experience; I have learnt a lot of thing very useful for my thesis, where I am studying many different policies in retrofitting here in Europe and now also US.

Now it is time for all of us, to show our work to the clients, and realized at what point we can reach in reality. I want to wish you all luck in the presentation with Viet Aid, and I wish many things you have said this month will be carried out.

Thank you very much.

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DUSP: Final skype presentation

Madrid Presentation May 8

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Last meeting: agenda

May 8, 9.30-11.30am (US)/ 3.30-5.30pm (ESP): FINAL SESSION
Presentation of the final proposals and wrap-up of the workshop

5 min:   Meeting agenda
30 min: DUyOT final presentation
15 min: Questions and comments for DUyOT team
30 min: DUSP final presentation
15 min: Questions and comments for DUSP team
25 min: Final discussion about the parallel workshop– What have you learned from the other team that has been useful for your work? How do you think the experience could be improved in the future?

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Notes on the third meeting

At first, I would like once more to thank both groups for the completion of the third meeting. As this workshop continues my interest is growing. The amount of new information that we have exchanged was really impressive, as well as the different approaches of study between each group.

In my previous notes in this blog I underlined some of the differences which I had detected (as the majority of us did). After the last meeting I can see clearly that the different sociopolitical features have also influenced our approaches. On the one hand Madrid´s analysis was conducted in the base of the public sector; on the other hand Boston´s analysis had as its base the private sector, treating the neighborhood like a client. In the Ciudad de Los Angeles we try to improve the life conditions of the habitants with a variety of territorial proposals like the pedestrianization of streets, interventions to the buildings, public space commercial zones etc. On the other hand in Fields Corner, as I have understood, you try to improve the image of the neighborhood with economical proposals giving priority in the attractiveness of the neighborhood. Concerning the above, I find very interesting one of the goals that you have set about safety and public health.

With regard to the neighborhood associations their effective role seems to be quite interesting – especially the role of Viet AID which appears to be the most dynamic among them. Could it be the organizer for the other associations? In our case the association of habitants has a huge influence in the neighborhood, and as we have presented they keep an essential role (much like a “booster” for a great number of improvements). I would be really interested to know whether or not Viet Aid can acquire the role of the “organizer” of the other associations.

I am looking forward to the next meeting, eagerly expecting to see the last part of your work!

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Reflections on the Role of Advocacy

During this presentation from the Madrid workshop, I found it striking how, while our issues, topics, and interventions are very similar, we have very different approaches. I became curious about what might be influencing this. I noticed that for the Madrid studio, it seemed the policy environment is much more in-line with their academic goals. On the topic of public gardens, it was said that there are already programs in place in Madrid. Funds are set up for energy efficiency improvements. In general, there seems to be many resources already established for the work they are doing.

In the US, policy makers are polarized on these issues. Funding comes and goes without warning. Programs are stopped abruptly midway. Access to public resources is extremely competitive. Success of community development organizations, such as our client, often depends on support from local advocacy groups that pressure public authorities to take action.

This made me think about advocacy in general and the form it takes in each of our proposals. The idea of community engagement has played a large role in our discussion of the project. No clear consensus has been reached about what it means or how it should be presented in our recommendations to our client. Often it has come up in our discussions as being an issue of advocacy. It is seen as a necessary component for the other recommendations to succeed. This is precisely because of the issue mentioned above. Specific areas in our project have been identified as requiring community organizing, such as the issue of absentee landlords or tenant rights.

In my opinion this is an incomplete view of what community involvement should mean for Fields Corner and for Viet-AID. It is not enough to engage residents around issues that we feel are important, but there also should be a channel for Viet-AID to be responsive to the issues that the community feels are most important to them. Viet-AID is well aware that they do not fully represent the community, and it is still quite possible that there are issues within the community that none of us are yet aware of, or that our prioritization of needs does not reflect that felt within the community. It is for this reason that Viet-AID should seek to create a long-standing dialogue, not just with other community groups in the area, but also with the citizens of the neighborhood. This will not only help Viet-AID gain the needed support of the community, but will better assist them in serving the community. This will also help create a dialogue between cultural groups in the neighborhood, adding to the vibrancy of the public realm and sense of place, setting the stage for the development of a diverse and inclusive neighborhood.

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