Two MIT teams design winning solutions for New Orleans

Originally posted on MIT News: December 6, 2010
Story by Emily Lo G

Much can come from collaboration, as was the case recently when graduate students in the Departments of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP) and Architecture worked with local community partners to revitalize struggling post-Katrina neighborhoods. With proposals for a new health clinic and an innovative fabrication center in New Orleans, the two teams of MIT students claimed first and second prize in the 2010 Chase Community Development Competition.

The final presentations for the competition were held in New Orleans on Nov. 30, and the two teams traveled to New Orleans to present their proposals and returned having won $25,000 and $15,000 in pre-development grants for their respective local partners. Public Service Center Grants helped support travel costs for both teams.

A neighborhood health clinic

DUSP graduate student Laura Manville and a team comprising fellow DUSP and architecture students designed the winning proposal for a health clinic in New Orleans East. The neighborhood was one of the worst hit during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but over the years has rebuilt quickly with the help of the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation. Despite this growth, the community still suffers from a lack of medical facilities.

The team's proposal, “BRIDGE,” directly addresses this need through its provision of a community clinic providing extended care and specialty services to the area's diverse demographic. It is the hope that this project not only will provide high quality, affordable, and accessible health care to residents, but will also act as a bridge to bring together and celebrate New Orleans East's various ethnic groups.

Manville, who spent this past summer as a Public Service Fellow working with the New Orleans Neighborhood Development Collaborative, explained by e-mail that her “team was especially excited to work on this project because it filled such an obvious need for the community. Residents either visit one of two small [health] clinics in one of the commercial strip mall areas, or drive half an hour to a hospital in downtown New Orleans. All of us believed that this project should be realized, and I think our presentation did an especially good job of communicating that to the judges. Our team took advantage of each other's strengths and backgrounds, and our proposal was a truly collaborative process.”

An innovative fabrication center

The idea of linking was a signature theme in the second group's proposal for a vocational school and fabrication facility in the Broad Street area of New Orleans. A team of DUSP and architecture graduate students worked with the non-profit Broad Community Connections to develop a proposal to rehabilitate an abandoned school building into a construction and design center. The redeveloped space would provide a home for the Priestley School of Architecture and Construction, a charter school that serves at-risk students. A permanent home for the Priestley School — on its fourth location in four years — will allow the school to focus on providing a quality education. In addition, the building will feature a Fabrication Laboratory, or Fab Lab, as a complementary use on site. Fab Labs are workshops for high-tech digital fabrication that aim to bring innovation and entrepreneurship to the local community. The final piece of the team's proposal calls for sustained relationships with the MIT community to add additional capacity to both the development project and the operations of the school.

“Several community members approached our team at the finals (even some that had come to support other proposals!) to tell us how important the renovation of the Augustine school would be to the local community,” said Caroline Todd Edwards, a graduate student in urban studies and planning who was part of the team.

Both teams are thrilled with the opportunity the competition gives their community partners to transform whole neighborhoods. The national competition, sponsored by Enterprise Community Partners and Chase Bank, brings together students and local non-profits to develop real estate plans that address issues of sustainability in post-Katrina New Orleans. Last year, graduate students Aditi Mehta SM ’10 and Jacquelyn Dadakis SM ’10 were awarded second place in the same competition for their redesign of an urban grocery.

Read more about students and their public service projects...