Last November, Sarah Lawrence College hosted a cross-disciplinary symposium to address the roles architects, planners, and activists have in rebuilding New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. "Various groups have been grappling hard with how to best rebuild the city, but they have not been talking to each other," said Dean Hubbard, the Joanne Woodward Chair in Public Policy. "The symposium was an effort to bring different initiatives together in one place, reach a consensus on what the major obstacles are to rebuilding, and come up with a strategy to address the needs of the people."
Hubbard, politics faculty member Ray Seidelman, and history faculty member Komozi Woodard helped organize the event, which featured 25 speakers, including SLC faculty members, design experts, representatives from ACORN and other community groups, and displaced New Orleans residents.
Woodard said, "The question is, 'What kind of space do people need to allow their lives to flower?' That's why all the groups participating in the rebuilding needed to be in one place- to hear from the people themselves about their social structures and how they envision their lives in the future."
The symposium provided a forum for the various groups to listen to the housing needs of the displaced residents. "If we design housing that does not fit the configuration of families in New Orleans, we would be throwing people out of the city, whether we were conscious of it or not," Woodard explained.
The College's interdisciplinary, discussion-based approach to education and problem solving made it well-suited to facilitate such a dialogue, said Hubbard-which was particularly important because the needs of low-income and African American families are often overlooked.
"After Katrina, everyone treated the African American community as victims," said Joseph Forte, chair of the visual culture program, who spoke at the event. "Sarah Lawrence faculty and students felt they should be treated as respected clients, and to have a substantial say in the rebuilding of their homes and city."
If the new housing and public spaces are beautiful as well as functional, he added, "They won't be viewed as disposable, and so won't be as vulnerable to eminent domain. They will have a lasting place in New Orleans."
Woodard concluded, "A lot of groups are concerned about the people in New Orleans. Right now, Sarah Lawrence is just a little tugboat among them. But we hope the symposium inspires everyone to get on board in rebuilding a better New Orleans."