Great Migration and Memorial Highway: Culture Heritage as Inspiration in New Rochelle

Long perceived as a bedroom community of New York City, New Rochelle is a place unique in colonial New York as being settled by a relatively large community of enslaved Africans, pre-dating the Revolutionary War by nearly 100 years. This legacy has left a lasting imprint on the city in numerous ways despite being largely hidden from the dominant urban narrative – one defined by leadership, projects, and policies that directly undercut the social and historic fabric of Black history.

At the same time, New Rochelle is growing and changing in significant ways as manifest in over thirty downtown development projects and a large transportation improvement planning initiative. The speed of this change and its significant imprint on the city fabric has had and continues to have the potential to overlook long-latent needs and histories. Change could also bring with it unintended consequences to long-term and historically disadvantaged populations that have experienced the negative and traumatic effects of urban change disproportionately already.

This studio will focus on cultural storytelling, systems-thinking, and investment in public infrastructure as means of surfacing new stories, addressing equitably issues of connectivity and change, and building more awareness of rich buried layers of the city's past. We will work directly with identified civic advocates and community members to better comprehend the lived experiences of the place – looking to learn from the past to envision an equitable future.  

Engaged as a multi-disciplinary team of students and in collaboration with the community, we will (1) assemble a coherent compilation of the city's history and current physical attributes, (2) dig deeply into cultural archaeology and narrative via a series of project “muses”, (3) move from an assessment of city-wide systems thinking to the identification and design pilot exploration of key sites, and (4) share the studio findings in an outward public forum, micro-site online, and/or a physical and moving exhibition. Student work will be evaluated on its rigor and authenticity in story-telling, its technical and design excellence and its ability to align community need with grounded and aspirational strategies.

This funded studio will tentatively include multiple studio site visits and frequent community engagement. Travel expenses will be covered for day trips to New Rochelle. 

This course has an irregular meeting schedule. Studio sessions will take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a few exceptions, but will not meet every week. Gena and Rhiannon will be in residence (Cambridge) on 9/2, 9/14, 9/16, 9/28, 9/30, 10/12, 10/14, 10/26, 10/28, 11/9, 11/11, 11/30, 12/2 and Final Reviews.