After Hurricane Katrina, the Center, represented by Roberta Gratz, Ron Shiffman and Stephen Goldsmith, immediately got involved in efforts to initiate a short term planning and development assistance to Gulf citizens as well as long term assistance in the rebuilding process that assured the participation of the affected citizens. Most importantly, the Center helped focus discussion on the needs of New Orleans' lowest income residents and their right to return to their neighborhood in a safe and sustainable manner. Ron and Roberta helped to organize a planning conference in Baton Rouge which brought together community-based activists from NYC and elsewhere with New Orleans Katrina victims.
With a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Center organized a 5-day trip to New Orleans with 10 Purchase College students. They were mostly journalism students, but included students from anthropology and environmental studies. The cross-section of students reflects the cross-disciplinary basis of the Center.
Each student was required to write three articles based on the diversified interviews set up ahead of time. Interviewee subjects included developers, transportation specialists, community residents, arts community leaders, preservationists, architects and a Times-Picayune columnist. Some of the student articles were published in the campus newspaper and posted on the Purchase website. The students' experience and the Center's work was covered on local Tv.
The New Orleans project and experience proved to have a profound impact on the students. While it differed with each student, a new understanding of urbanism was conveyed. The inextricable connections among urban issues could not be missed and the need to look at city building issues in a holistic way was clear. No matter what profession any of these students go into, none of them will think about cities the way they did before this trip.
Shortly after the trip, the Museum for the City of New York offered the Center the opportunity to mount a two-month exhibit about the New Orleans trip. The exhibit opened April 20, 2006 and ran through June 2006. Center board member Richard Rabinowitz, who gained national acclaim with his Slavery in New York show at the New York Historical Society, helped Roberta and Stephen develop the exhibit. The exhibit was funded by Purchase College.
Drawing on the students' articles and photographs, the exhibit spotlighted the critical issues uncovered by the students during the New Orleans visit. Hundreds of people visited this exhibit and visitor comments clearly reflected a strong impact on the viewers.
Get a glimpse of the project in Lessons in the Classrooms of Life (below), a featured article in Purchase's Alumni magazine in Summer of 2006.