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    Community Engagement

    Community engagement enables the planning faculty and students to address community needs.

    Community engagement goes beyond service because leaders of public, non-profit, and community-based organizations define the problems that need to be resolved and seek our help to resolve them. Through application workshop courses, faculty and students work collaboratively with these North Carolina clients to specify the class projects to be undertaken.

    Over the course of the semester, students combine creativity and technical capabilities to produce plans, strategies or recommendations for community improvement. Projects vary each year but generally focus on affordable housing, community development, economic development, environmental protection, growth management, land use planning and transportation.

    Fall 2016 Workshop Review


    Economic Development Workshop
    The economic development workshop was facilitated by Professor Bill Lester. It tackled two client projects and students worked on both projects, taking multiple “lead” and “support” roles on each. The clients for the projects were the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in Washington, DC, and the Word Tabernacle Church Impact Center in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

    Learn more>> Carolina ∆NGLES workshop review

    Transportation Workshop

    The transportation workshop was facilitated by DCRP PhD candidate and former land developer Bill Bishop, whose research focuses on Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) and maximizing the impact of mass transit through value capture. The workshop was tasked with taking a critical look at the city of Charlotte’s Blue Line Extension, a light rail line connecting the central business district with the UNC Charlotte campus about 13 miles to the north. City of Charlotte Planning and regional transit agency staff worked with the UNC workshop team to lay out the successes and shortcomings of TOD surrounding new light rail stations. The workshop team was then given the ever-so-easy task of rethinking TOD for the Charlotte Blue Line Extension.

    Learn more>> Carolina ∆NGLES workshop review

    Reimagining a more inclusive food system


    Dr. Mai Nguyen’s PLAN 823 Workshop course developed a community and economic action plan for Southwest Central Durham.

    In partnership with City of Durham, Self-Help, and local residents, DCRP students focused on Food Systems and looked for workforce opportunities in Southwest Central Durham.

    Student Team: Amy Bullington, Sophie Kelmenson, Mieke Lynch, Michelle Madeley, Julio Paredes, and Zilo Toure
    Instructor: Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen

    LRT Station Area Affordable Housing Study


    DCRP students, led by Dr. Emil Malizia determined if there are parcels already under the ownership of either the City or the County within future rail transit areas that could potentially be used for future affordable housing development. They were tasked with determining land characteristics that are optimal for development of affordable housing. To do this, they conducted a literature review as well as numerous interviews with local developers. Once the criteria were established, an analysis was performed to rate parcels owned by City or County against the criteria to determine potential suitability for affordable housing development.

    Learn more: LTR Station Area Affordable Housing Study

    The State of Low-Wage Work in N.C.


    Identifying a metric to quantify what low-wage work consists of is challenging due to the complexity and variety of definitions used in the field. Comparing the most common measures found through a literature review, we chose to use the 150% Federal Poverty Level cutoff for a family of two for 2014. That measure equates to $11.34 per hour ($23,595 per year).

    Visit the website:

    This website explores the extent and impact of low-wage in the State of North Carolina.  It is organized by four main topics: people in low-wage jobs; industries in which low-wage work is found; the geography, or places, where low-wage work is concentrated; and the potential impacts of changing public policy. We believe these four areas provide a thorough snapshot of the state of low-wage work in NC.

    Learn more: Low Wage Work in NC

    DCRP Workshop helps UNC earn bike friendly award


    The League of American Bicyclists has designated UNC at Chapel Hill as a Silver-Level Bike Friendly University. The Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bike-able campus for students, staff and visitors.

    Led by DCRP Professor, Noreen McDonald, students in her PLAN 823 workshop course provided a draft of the application, as well as identifying near term policies that could be implemented to improve bicycling at UNC. Through application workshop courses, DCRP faculty and students work collaboratively with North Carolina clients to specify the class projects to be undertaken. Over the course of the semester, students combine creativity and technical capabilities to produce plans, strategies or recommendations for community improvement. The workshop students included: Michael Clark, Ann McGrane, Jill Mead, John Perry, Bryan Poole, and Le Zhang.

    Learn more: Bicycle Friendly University


    Carteret County 2030: Imagining the Futures
    Land use and environmental planning workshop

    According to Assistant Professor Nikhil Kaza, the project “demonstrates techniques frequently used in industry settings, but are only recently becoming more common in regional planning practice.”

    Last fall, a team of nine second-year DCRP students worked with North Carolina’s Eastern Region and the Military Growth Task Force (PlanIt East effort) to help set the groundwork for a regional approach to sustainable growth and conservation planning.

    The team of land use and environmental planning students, under the guidance of Assistant Professor Nikhil Kaza, demonstrated an application of scenario planning principles in Carteret County in order to inform the larger nine county “EnvisionEAST-2050” effort planned for fall 2012. This effort, modeled on the “Reality Check” process developed by the Urban Land Institute, will convene approximately 300 regional stakeholders to discuss regional planning and development priorities in the face of significant growth.

    Drawing on socioeconomic and spatial analyses and the experience of comparative communities, the team recognized early in the project that the future of Carteret County is inherently uncertain. Although some policy decisions are locally controllable, all communities face multiple external uncontrollable forces. This is especially true for coastal communities, which may be impacted by storm surge and sea level rise as well as shifts in military investment, tourism development, and worldwide supply chain logistics.

    In light of these findings, students identified “growth drivers” to help local planners and policymakers conceptualize these externally imposed forces: transportation and port investments, military expansion, and tourism investment.


    Community Development in Quy Nhon City, Vietnam
    Community Development Workshop


    Last August, a team of nine second-year students from DCRP travelled to Vietnam in preparation for a fall semester workshop.  The project entailed creating a plan for the People's Committee of Quy Nhon, a city on the east coast of Vietnam. Along with DCRP students, a team from the University of Hawaii and Columbia University are also working on the plan.  Each school was charged to focus on one of three elements: economic development, community development, and urban design.  UNC's team, under the guidance of DCRP Associate Professor Mai Nguyen, was responsible for the community development component of the plan.  “Vietnam faces massive challenges related to population growth, rapid urbanization, infrastructure demands, environmental degradation, and poverty.  There is a tremendous demand for the planning curricula and planning practice in Vietnam to consider social and environment factors in addition to physical factors,” says Dr. Nguyen.

    The trip to Vietnam provided students with a glimpse of the social and political context in which development is occurring in Quy Nhon.  They spent one week in Quy Nhon gathering primary and secondary data, attending meetings with union representatives, and observing the city.  Afterwards, students traveled throughout Vietnam and met with organizations and stakeholders wherever connections could be made.  Different students visited different areas of the country in order to gain a broader perspective on the culture and development status of various regions.  This experience exposed students to a variety of very practical planning issues including: gaining entry into foreign communities as an outsider, developing historically and culturally sensitive plans, understanding how governance structures can shape planning outcomes, and accessing sources of local knowledge in order to develop effective plans and policies.  

    After returning to the US, the group spent the fall 2010 semester analyzing the data.  They produced a report with policy recommendations intended to mitigate negative impacts of growth in Quy Nhon, while at the same time bolstering local organizations and improving community self-awareness.  The team examined issues ranging from the impacts of different types of economic development, such as new industry and tourism; the use and potential of the city's most popular public space, the beach; and infrastructure needs in different communities within the city such as water, wastewater, and housing.  “The primary goal of the plan was to create strategies for land use and development that are sensitive to the historical and cultural assets within the region,” says Nguyen.  “The biggest challenge facing the workshop team was  writing a plan that is respectful of Quy Nhon’s community development ideals, which are based in a political environment radically different from our own. The trip was invaluable in providing context to help students address this issue.”


    Checking up on Reality Check
    Land-Use & Environmental Planning Workshop

    In 2009, Triangle Tomorrow, in cooperation with ULI-the Urban Land Institute, conducted a Reality Check workshop in Raleigh with 300 interested citizens, professionals, municipal officials, and others from the 15 counties centered on the Triangle area.  Working at 30 tables, the groups envisioned the location of growth in the region over the next 20 years.  Each group assigned new population and employment, as well as transportation linkages and open space, to a grid of one-mile square units.  Generally, the groups located population and employment at significantly higher densities and more compactly than the existing development pattern.  Although the groups had generated numerous Reality Check 2030 scenarios, no baseline scenario existed to provide a benchmark for comparison.  

    DCRP students in the Land Use & Environmental Planning Workshop generated both a Baseline and Reality Check 2030 scenario, and then conducted a comparative analysis of the costs and benefits associated with each.  Each student was assigned a county, met with area planning authorities, and analyzed ArcGIS data to explore what growth might look like over the next 20 years.

    After reviewing the two growth scenarios and examining the implications of each, the workshop students recommended that the 15-county region adopt principles encouraging vibrant city centers, monitoring area-wide transit and protecting undeveloped open space to guide decisions about future growth management, infrastructure development, and public service allocation.  Failure to do so would have far-reaching implications for the quality of life in the whole Triangle region.

    Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps program evolves in second year

    The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development and School of Government are proud to announce the continuation of the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC).  The program selects five returning graduate students from Carolina in any program or discipline administered by the Graduate School to carry out economic revitalization work in low-capacity and economically distressed communities across the state of North Carolina for a one-year period.

    The Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC, formerly the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps) addresses an urgent need in North Carolina: how do economically distressed communities with little or no professional staff do the planning and make the investments necessary for economic and community development?  CERC attempts to address this challenge through the placement of graduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill in regional organizations serving low-capacity municipalities across the state.  This initiative seeks to leverage the assets of the University by putting “boots on the ground” to help small towns plan for and gain access to critical federal and state funding and to undertake the compliance and reporting associated with those grants.

    The next group of CERC members will be selected and trained during the 2011 spring semester and placed at a regional organization for a paid 10-week summer internship where they will assist low-capacity towns and counties with community and economic development planning, grant research and writing, and project implementation.  Following this 10-week internship, Corps members will return to Carolina and continue to work remotely with their host organization for 12 to 15 hours per week over the course of two semesters. In addition, Corps members are required to write and submit periodic articles for the School of Government’s community and economic development blog (see link below). A paid stipend, tuition support, and graduate student health insurance will be provided to Corps Members.

    The Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps grew out of a project during the summer of 2009 which placed nine graduate students—from City and Regional Planning, Social Work, and Law—at local Councils of Governments (COGs) and the NC League of Municipalities. Since 2009 Corps members have worked with thirteen different regional organizations providing much needed technical assistance to over 90 localities; however, it is only the beginning of what needs to be done.  Communities must look beyond temporary [stimulus] funding opportunities to truly revitalize their economies. It is in this effort that CERC is contributing to a more enduring recovery and revitalization of North Carolina’s most distressed areas.

    The main difference between the first and current round of CERC is that the program has expanded from a 10-week summer experience to include remote part-time assistance during the following two semesters.  This was developed in response to feedback from the first summer’s corps members, who felt that 10 weeks was not enough time to meaningfully contribute to their host regions.  The expanded program means that each corps member spends a full year on the project, enabling more meaningful connections and more long-term accomplishments.

    Stay current with CERC's efforts by visiting their blog at:

    UNC, N.C. State students win national urban design contest

    A team of NC State University and UNC-Chapel Hill students won a national urban design competition with their redevelopment plan for a San Diego neighborhood.

    The team won the $50,000 top prize in the 2010 Urban Land Institute Hines Design Competition.  The team’s plan for an area within the East Village neighborhood, now a mishmash of new housing, old warehouses and parking lots is called Family-Oriented Development.  The design emphasizes neighborhood diversity, affordability, and walkability; and accommodates the diverse needs of families of different sizes, ages and economic levels.

    The NCSU-UNC team bested the other finalists from Harvard University, the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania in San Diego on April 8, 2010.

    The NCSU-UNC team members were Maria Papiez (leader), Rebecca Myers, Jeff Pleshek and Matt Tomasulo from NCSU and Daria Khramtsova from UNC.  Professor Robin Fran Abrams, director of the School of Architecture at NCSU, was the lead teaching advisor for the team during the competition.  DCRP Professor and Chair Emil Malizia also advised the team. 

    For the first time, Professors Abrams and Malizia combined their courses—an urban design studio at NCSU and a real estate development workshop at UNC-Chapel Hill.  There were 20 graduate architecture or landscape architecture students in the studio course and 10 graduate city and regional planning students in the workshop.  The first phase of the competition began in January 2010 and lasted two weeks.  A total of 132 teams from 48 universities in the U.S. and Canada submitted proposals including the 6 teams from the combined NCSU-UNC course.

    Professors Abrams and Malizia have agreed to combine their courses again in spring 2011 to participate in the next Hines competition.

    View the team's design proposal

    Examining the Changing Commute to UNC
    Transportation Planning Workshop

    In 1997, the University commissioned its first study of campus commuting patterns. The purpose of the study was to survey both students and employees about the various travel modes they use to commute to campus, as well as their origins and destinations. The data gathered was used to help UNC Department of Transportation and Parking and the Town of Chapel Hill plan for University and Town transportation needs. This study was repeated in 2001, 2004, and 2007.

    In 2009, the University again surveyed the campus community to determine how campus commuting patterns have changed in the last two years. This latest study provides comprehensive information about the current state of campus commuter behavior and characteristics, makes comparisons to the 1997, 2001, 2004 and 2007 studies where they are possible and relevant, and offers analysis of trends in the data and the implications of these trends for on-campus and off-campus decision makers.

    The report is divided into several sections: a brief explanation of the study’s methodology, a chapter detailing employee commuting patterns, a chapter detailing student commuting patterns, and finally a discussion of major findings.


    Checking up on Reality Check
    Land-Use Planning Workshop


    In February 2009, Triangle Tomorrow in cooperation with ULI-the Urban Land Institute conducted a Reality Check workshop in Raleigh with 300 interested citizens, professionals, municipal officials, and others from the 15 counties centered on the Triangle area.  Working at 30 tables, the groups envisioned the location of growth in the region over the next 20 years.  Each group assigned new population and employment, as well as transportation linkages and open space, to a grid of one-mile square units.  Generally, the groups located population and employment at significantly higher densities and more compactly than the existing development pattern.

    The Workshop Supervisor assisted by a Master’s student from the Department of City and Regional Planning  compiled background information on Reality Check in April-May 2009.  The idea of this workshop developed from an important omission from the original exercise.  Although the groups had generated numerous Reality Check scenarios, no baseline scenario existed for 2030 to provide a basis for comparison.  The land-use workshop was planned in the summer of 2009 and began in the fall semester.  This report was completed in May 2010.  The students first developed Baseline and Reality Check scenarios and then conducted a comparative analysis of the costs and benefits associated with the two scenarios.  In essence, they compared more compact transit-oriented development to lower density, dispersed development patterns that mirrored past development.

    Planning Students Help Communities Across North Carolina Secure Funding

    For many recent graduates, the question “What did you do last summer?” provokes an uneasy feeling.  With a tough economic climate facing graduating students and even greater budgetary shortfalls faced by many local governments, jobs were scarce.  As North Carolina battled budget shortfalls in the face of a lagging economy, the UNC system used one of its greatest resources — its students’ expertise — to help small businesses and local governments throughout the state weather the economic crisis.

    To meet the state’s needs, UNC - Chapel Hill launched a new internship program in the summer of 2009 called the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps (CERC). Carolina graduate students spent ten weeks working full-time with Councils of Government (COGS) across the state.  The main thrust of their work was to identify economic recovery needs and to secure federal funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). 

    The principal partners who put together this program were Jesse White, Director of UNC Office of Economic and Business Development (OEBD), and his steering committee, with support and funding from Tony Waldrop, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development.  White says that each intern position was designed to help its assigned region come up with grant proposals for specific communities.  Although the money that funded the program came from UNC, the grants that the interns helped secure for communities will come from the ARRA.  

    The intern positions played a vital role in connecting and managing the relationships between the COGs and their local governments. Of the nine interns selected competitively for the program, five were from the Department of City and Regional Planning. They were placed in various Councils of Governments (COGs) across the state , including: RTP, Rutherfordton, Greensboro, Asheville, Wilmington, Washington, Charlotte and Wilson. During the program, students lived in the communities and heard first-hand what the needs were, doing their best to match those needs with available funding. 

    Acting as liaisons between the council and smaller local governments, the interns traveled to meet with various city officials about economic recovery funding and stimulus package grants. They ensured that local administrators had the correct information to apply for the targeted grants, and they walked many of them through the application process. For larger local governments, ARRA funding was seem as an opportunity to seek new development ventures and to fund long-awaited projects.  For smaller local governments, the new funding opportunities presented by the Recovery Act were often met with resistance because of the time and resources that would be required to apply for and administer these grants.  Joshua Levy, OEBD Assistant Director, believes that continuing economic recovery efforts are important: “Many small towns don’t have the capacity to apply for funding, so CERC is way to connect them to resources. Ten weeks is a short timeframe, but the goal is for CERC to impact long-term economic recovery by investing in the future.” 

    The CERC intern program is a successful example of how universities can partner to help local organizations, and give students and faculty internship and research opportunities.  The interns’ accomplishments did not go unnoticed by UNC’s administration either. Chancellor Holden Thorp chose the CERC program as the subject of a recent blog post, …in this economy I got a job helping others who don’t have jobs get back into the work force' seems like a pretty good answer to the question, “What do you do this summer?”

    Students Create Town Impemention Plan

    In late 2008, public and private leaders from the eastern North Carolina city of Kinston submitted a proposal to UNC’s Community Campus Partnership for Tomorrow and the Golden Leaf Foundation for assistance in planning and implementing a comprehensive redevelopment plan for the greater Kinston area. As a part of the initiative, a targeted proposal was sent to UNC’s Kenan Institute. The Kenan Institute agreed to address the particularly depressed conditions along the Highway 11 Corridor on the east side of Kinston, also known as the Martin Luther King (MLK) Corridor. During the Spring 2009 semester, the Kenan Institute set out to provide an actionable redevelopment plan utilizing the Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR) program at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

    After developing the scope of the work in the summer, building on the work of the STAR team, the department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP) conducted a graduate workshop tasked with developing a report that emphasized implementation for the city of Kinston. The resulting implementation plan covers five primary areas of work in the MLK Corridor: residential development and affordable housing, zoning and physical improvements, transportation emphasizing economic development goals, identification of funding sources, and community outreach.

    The workshop, led by Dr. Robin Howarth, was conducted with a comprehensive approach that divided the students into five teams that corresponded to the five primary areas of work. Each team worked independently to address its specific tasks while also meeting regularly with other teams to exchange information and find connections. Early in the process, students identified a critical need for garnering the support and contributions of residents in the MLK neighborhood if sustainable outcomes were to be achieved. The Community Team organized a neighborhood meeting in October 2009 to solicit input that would be useful to each of the other teams and to identify potential leadership for providing ongoing community involvement in the redevelopment of the MLK Corridor. Other connections were established between groups through the Zoning and Physical Improvements Team’s development of a series of six case studies highlighting recent, successful revitalization strategies in similar North Carolina towns. Findings from the case studies were incorporated in the work of those students addressing housing, funding, transportation, and community outreach strategies in an effort to assure that their output was both timely and practical.

    All five teams identified and worked toward common broad outcomes for the workshop. First and foremost, the teams focused on developing recommendations for the City that would be feasible and actionable within three years in order to meet the implementation criterion. Secondly, the teams prioritized needs and identified likely resources to meet these needs with an eye towards preserving the city’s current resources. A third priority was to nest the desired outcomes with existing plans in order to recognize and incorporate prior efforts. The fourth priority was to ensure the validity of the work by being sensitive to and addressing the issues identified by the MLK Corridor residents. Finally, the teams’ recommendations were to be sustainable based on realistic assessments of existing conditions and potential capacity at the city and community levels.

    DCRP Workshop Results in Durham Reforming Local Incentive Use

    In these difficult economic times, good jobs-related news is often hard to come by.  Durham, North Carolina received some recently when an electronics manufacturer from the United Kingdom - ACW Technology -announced it had picked the city as a site to build a large-scale manufacturing facility. In exchange for selecting Durham, city officials granted a modest $70,000 in location incentives. But this was no ordinary incentive offer. This one came with important and unique conditions that ensure that local residents will be at the head of the line when it comes to being considered for these new jobs.  Under the terms of the incentives agreement, ACW has committed to giving Durham’s JobLink Career Center—a city-managed, federally-funded employment agency—priority in recruiting and referring applicants for its 155 job openings. While those referred by JobLink are not guaranteed jobs, it does provide Durham residents with a leg up in the hiring process. Additionally, this agreement enables JobLink to prioritize job placement for unemployed and underemployed Durham residents. With this groundbreaking agreement, Durham begins a positive chapter in its efforts to reform how local officials grant incentives when trying to lure new companies to their area.

    Of course it took years of careful planning and advocacy to get to this point. Back in 2006 a local organization called Durham C.A.N. (Congregations, Associations and Networks) contacted DCRP. Durham C.A.N. is a social justice coalition made up of community and faith-based organizations and is affiliated with Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation. In response to C.A.N.’s request for assistance, DCRP Assistant Professor Nichola Lowe designed an economic development workshop course in spring 2007 that enabled students to investigate Durham County and City’s incentive granting process and make recommendations for improvements based on a nationwide review of best practices. C.A.N. used the results of this analysis to begin a series of conversations with city and county officials. The ACW Technology local hiring agreement is a direct result of these discussions.

    DCRP workshop participant Brady Gordon (MRP ‘08) says, “Our work was exciting right from the start because we knew Durham C.A.N. didn’t just want a report; they wanted us to participate in a conversation about what was possible in Durham. C.A.N. leaders trusted us and shared their deliberations, and we were able to inform the conversation with our ideas and research. It was thrilling to be in the middle of that community organizing and policy-making process. I’m very happy and impressed that the ultimate outcome is a step forward for social justice and economic development practice in Durham and the region.”

    In the high-stakes game of industrial recruitment, this historic moment is important not only for Durham, but for the entire state. Research shows that many incentive-linked jobs go to people moving into an area after being hired or to others who commute in from outside.  This result is in part due to established relationships between incentivized firms and private staffing agencies which recruit across the country and even beyond.  As Professor Lowe notes, “Local hiring agreements are an important tool for ensuring tangible community benefits result from publically-funded industrial recruitment activities. The work of our students helped demonstrate this connection and gave Durham C.A.N. the information it needed to ratchet-up performance standards. I am hopeful that other communities in our state will follow Durham’s lead.” This represents an important next step in local incentive reform.  With so many of our region’s residents out of work, the current economic crisis requires stronger channels for local jobs matching.  Incentives can be a powerful tool for workforce development, but only if the right conditions are placed on the firms that receive them.

    Students Work Impresses Local Leaders

    It all began with a chance meeting between Dr. Meenu Tewari (DCRP) and a member of the Board of Orange County Commissioners.   The Board needed help thinking through its economic development strategy, and they wanted to see what UNC could do for them. 

    A meeting in Hillsborough was planned with Margaret Hauth (MRP '92 and Planning Director of Hillsborough).  The Town of Hillsborough had a strip of land north of town along Hwy 70 that could be developed.  Dr. Tewari offered to explore this issue as a class project in her Economic Development Theory Seminar. Since students are always asking for more applied work, this seemed to be a good opportunity to provide practical grounding for a theory seminar.  Thus, Cornelius Street Project was born.

    Margaret Hauth later introduced the Hillsborough project to Meenu’s class, where students formed teams to work on it.  After multiple site visits and interviews, the students presented their results to the town mayor and planning committee.

    The students’ venture was well-received and before long the Orange County Economic Development Advisory Board was in contact with Meenu’s class.  The Board was keen on having students work on potential risk assessment tasks that the Board had prioritized.  They presented 10 “priorities” in class, and offered to allow the students to pick one of them for a term project.  Board members became very involved, meeting with the students, listening to their project statements, even attending mid-term presentations.  Extensive feedback was given to each student.  The final presentations were attended by various board members, elected commissioners, and a handful of external guests.

    "North Carolina-and Orange County itself–is a microcosm of the larger economic development issues and challenges that face us today.  The state serves as a rich and meaningful learning lab for DCRP students. Particularly in current times, when uncertainty and deep transformations have called into question much of the wisdom about traditional economic development strategies, and when many of our standard theories don’t serve us too well, it is critical to build new insights about what works and why,” says Dr. Tewari.  “This grounded scholarship – and engagement — is equally valuable for our students as they wrestle with concrete reality and learn to become reflective practitioners.”  

    DCRP Master’s students have been participating in community development workshops focusing on recovery efforts in the Gentilly neighborhoods of New Orleans during the fall and spring semesters. The workshops allowed students to work directly in post-Katrina revitalization efforts at the neighborhood level and gain practical experience in the field. Students worked with UNC’s New Orleans Recovery Initiative (NORI) and neighborhood representatives from the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association.

    The fall workshop was led by Roberto Quercia of DCRP, working with Spencer Cowan of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) and Joanne Caye from the School of Social Work. Students in the workshop realized that they needed accurate information about the extent of rebuilding before they could develop any scenarios to help the community move forward with recovery. Because of a lack of available data from the city of New Orleans, the students decided they could be most effective by developing a neighborhood audit tool that they could use to gather and map data. By creating maps of the neighborhood, with data at the individual lot level, the students would be able to show where residents had returned to the neighborhoods or begun reconstruction.

    All of the students in the fall workshop traveled to New Orleans in November to carry out the neighborhood audit in eight sections of Gentilly, working both by car and foot as they moved house by house and block by block. As they worked, the students were able to talk with community residents and learned a great deal about local conditions that might not be apparent from a less personal approach. Students also interviewed community leaders to learn more about their neighborhoods.

    This spring, William Rohe of DCRP is leading a second workshop with Spencer Cowan to continue the work begun in the fall. Half of the students in the spring workshop went to New Orleans in March to gather more data in two additional sections of Gentilly and test the audit tools that community residents can use gathering follow-up data. Students have also mapped and analyzed the data collected by students in the fall. The other half of the students in the workshop traveled to New Orleans at the end of April and presented recommendations to help explain the data and develop ways for the communities to carry on the work themselves as they seek to revitalize their neighborhoods and the city of New Orleans in the future.

    The community will benefit from the audit and mapping in several ways. The data the students gathered and the maps they generated provide residents with information to help them guide future development efforts. The community can also use the information to gain leverage in dealing with city institutions by showing where the population has returned. The community can use the maps to attract developers by showing where opportunities exist. In addition, the audit tools are relatively low-tech, allowing the residents to continue gathering and mapping data to show the progress their community is making over time.

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