Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First thoughts of a student on the site

My name is Thalia Lewis, and I’m the newest team member working with Carol and Tony of effortlessdesign on the eco New Bedford/ Smart Growth on Brock Ave. project. I’m a Masters student at Boston Architectural College, and this is my first internship position in the field. I became involved in the New Bedford project (which has spanned several years) just three weeks ago, so I am climbing a steep and snowy learning curve in order to understand the ins-and-outs of this project. So far, so good. The project is incredibly exciting and unquestionably has the potential to have a profound impact on the New Bedford community. What I don’t know about Smart Growth and community building could fill volumes, but my effort as co-blogger will be to share my on-the-job learning as a participant in the project, hopefully providing some insight for others like me, who are invested in smart, sustainable community development and want become more involved and better informed.

For my first post, Carol asked me to share a bit about what I’ve learned in my initial weeks working on the project. That too, could fill volumes, but I’ll spare you the part about how I should have worn an extra set of long-johns my first day on the site (oy!).

It takes a village...
In just these few weeks, I’ve learned a fair amount about the New Bedford community: its architectural and cultural fabric, its economic triumphs and struggles. I’ve learned about the principles of Smart Growth, and how projects like Smart Growth on Brock Ave. have the potential to radically and rapidly revitalize a community like New Bedford, architecturally and economically. New Bedford already has in place the foundations of what a community needs to flourish economically in an environmentally sustainable way: limited sprawl, walkable neighborhoods, a core of thriving small businesses, a mass-transit connection to the major urban centers.

Most importantly, however, I’ve learned that in much the same way as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to re-build a community. Large corporations may provide a certain kind of stimulus to a nation’s economy, but there is tremendous potential at the local level for a community like New Bedford to revitalize its own economy through small business and local investment. This understanding, alongside the notion that community development can be done in a way that is ecologically as well as economically sustainable, is at the heart of the eco New Bedford project.

The local architect has a major role to play in the re-building of a community. We are not simply designers: we are developers, planners, and master builders (as well as advocates, strategists, negotiators, politicians, publicists...). But for small-scale projects Smart Growth on Brock Ave. to have a big impact on the community, the full resources of the community must be mobilized: local architects, local contractors and suppliers, local politicians, local development agencies like the New Bedford Economic Development Council, home-grown advocacy groups like the Buzzard’s Bay Coalition, and equally, local residents (the entrepreneur, the home owner, as well as the neighbourhood kid who shovels the site when it snows). There are many roles to be played. It’s for each of us to decide what our individual role will be in the “smart” process of re-building New Bedford, and communities like it across the nation. My role, for now, is “a student on the site.”

My first day on the Brock Ave. site. Observing the installation of SIPs on the residential units. A highly educational day, which could only have been improved by wearing long-johns. For more information on SIPs, see the Dec. 27, 2008 post: SIPs - Installing Structural Insulated Panels.

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