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Dean Schwartz Writes Op-ed Piece For The Times-Picayune, “Post-Katrina Lessons In Building A Stronger Community.”

Dean Schwartz Writes Op-ed Piece for the Times-Picayune, “Post-Katrina Lessons in Building a Stronger Community.”

Grow Dat Youth Farm’s mission is to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food. Tulane City Center students designed and constructed an award-winning eco campus housing a teaching kitchen, offices, composting toilets, produce storage and farm support spaces. In 2014, the program’s teenagers, from six partner schools across New Orleans, grew 12,000 pounds of food: 60 percent was sold and 40 percent shared through donation, barter or subsidized sale.

From its roots as the St. Bernard Market, Circle Food Store had served as a community hub for generations before photographs of the flooded store became iconic visuals of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches. Tulane City Center worked with business owner Dwayne Boudreaux to develop the tools to help him advocate for renewed investment in his historic grocery. This $8 million renovation restored a community icon and brings food access back to the 7th Ward.

Our students and faculty helped to launch this project at an early stage when few people held out hope for this important institution’s revival. Tulane University alumnus John Williams served as the lead architect in realizing Mr. Boudreaux’s vision.

Through the Tulane City Center, the Tulane School of Architecture’s community design center, students and faculty have advanced the design and construction of more than 80 projects across New Orleans. Each project begins as a proposal from a nonprofit organization and is developed in partnership with the organization’s constituents. Through our partners, these projects contribute to healing, sheltering and serving our citizens. There is an amazing spirit of collaboration and commitment at work. 

TCC’s work addresses the key issues in New Orleans: expanding access to neighborhood resources, improving urban systems, celebrating our cultural heritage and promoting healthy communities. Our design work, whether a visual narrative or a built structure, provides a targeted contribution to advancing the ongoing efforts of our partner organizations. Grow Dat Youth Farm and Circle Foods are two projects completed in 2012 with different approaches to addressing food access in the city. In both instances, the School of Architecture’s contribution at a key early moment leveraged much larger results through collaboration.

The design support from TCC has spurred additional reinvestment in the city as well:

Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative: TCC’s 2011 research and design study helped the Jane Place initiative pursue partnerships in support of its 2739 Palmyra Project, a $1.2 million redevelopment that wil l provide affordable housing and bring a new model for sustainable communities to Mid-City. The project broke ground this April.

New Orleans Redevelopment Authority’s Facade RENEW: Through NORA’s support, TCC is providing free design services to business and property owners applying to NORA’s Facade RENEW program, which represents $1 million of investment in revitalizing storefronts in four targeted historic commercial corridors across the city.  

The students, faculty and staff of the School of Architecture, supported by a courageous and progressive university administration, have worked toward recovery and revitalization since returning to campus after Katrina in January 2006. We have been in good company; many schools of architecture came to New Orleans and performed heroic work in the first few years after the disaster. Many were motivated by the dire situation   and were trying to fill the vacuum produced by government’s abject failure at every level to address fundamental needs of the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast before and after the catastrophe.

To this day, Tulane architecture students continue to address the issues facing New Orleans while striving for aspirations of beauty, sustainability and social justice. It is heartening to see the students embrace the lessons of a strong architectural education in the unique context of their city. Through applied research and action, they are enhancing the positive impact of design through engagement. They also are deepening their understanding that what is built must be informed by tangible human experience. 

Our school is distinctive in the way we have embraced the creative potential of rebuilding New Orleans. Community engagement has become fundamentally ingrained in our school, as key aspects of academic rigor and developing professional ethics. Our students learn that good designers are good citizens. They recognize the relevance of connecting their skills with pressing community and global issues. This is “social innovation” at   its very best, and I am proud of the constructive legacy they have created through their individual and collective efforts.

We are not only collaborating in building community, the Tulane School of Architecture is educating a new model of engaged professional: humble, inclusive, creative, collaborative, empathetic and dedicated to the idea that design matters in the many challenges faced by New Orleans and our nation.

Kenneth Schwartz is Favrot professor and dean of Tulane University School of Architecture.

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