Since the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the PSC has funded many MIT students to travel to New Orleans to assist communities in need. Jeff Schwartz, one of these students, is now the executive director of Broad Community Connections (BCC), a non-profit community development organization working to promote the revitalization of the Broad Street commercial corridor in New Orleans.
How did you get started in this work, and how has your work evolved?
My work, and the work of the organization, began as a direct outgrowth of Karl Seidman's Revitalizing Urban Main Streets class in the spring of 2007. I think I was always interested in doing community development work, but that class represented the "ah ha" moment of holistically working on community economic development issues, and my work and the work of the organization have ever since been following a trajectory that began that semester.
How have you impacted the Broad Street corridor through your work?
BCC is a multifaceted organization that has undertaken various programs in the last four years. We've supported policy and zoning changes; pushed for or provided bicycle lanes, street furniture, and other improvements on the street; purchased new neon signs for five businesses; hosted a variety of events, including flea markets, drive-in movies, food truck, beer, coffee, and music events; assisted in the preservation of historic structures; and initiated a merchants association. We have also undertaken our own development, where we are currently in the process of closing on financing for the ReFresh Project, a $19M adaptive reuse project that will anchor economic development efforts in the corridor, and help to improve the health of the surrounding neighborhoods by delivering fresh food access, educational programming, and workforce development to Broad Street.
How did the PSC play a role in the work of MIT students in New Orleans?
The PSC played a key role in enabling me to engage in this work. Not only did the PSC support my work in New Orleans during graduate school (in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning), the PSC also supported the work of dozens of students to come to New Orleans and do remarkable, impactful work. The PSC has generally been a champion of student work in New Orleans, and has been a crucial partner and facilitator in making that happen.
How has this work had a personal impact on you?
I still remember reading William Barton Rogers' quote in Building 7 the first day I walked on campus ("Established for advancement and development of science and its application to industry, the arts, agriculture, and commerce"), and I think the PSC plays an integral role in helping achieve that vision of applying learning to the practical improvement of a community. To me, that's about living in a place and being relevant there, and that's a lasting legacy for the PSC.