My Study Away Week in NYC: Sustainable Communities

Day #1: (Monday, June 5th – Harlem Walking Tour – Local to Global implications, beginning ideas for own study away project) More Questions than Answers.

When I hear the term or phrase sustainable communities I think of vegetable gardens each growing season, and other cyclical things. I’ve not thought of sustainable communities as part of a human or cultural eco-system. The walking tour of Harlem was interesting in that a complete interactive culture, i.e.,  the African American well-known community of Harlem, was not available to us as tour members. We heard and saw fragments of an era in the past – no Disneyland glamourized picture. So, is this a lost community? How is it sustained or not?  It was obvious that in a physical sense landmarks from the Harlem Renaisance are not preserved and the social/cultural/economic reasons are real. This was new to me  – that even in NYC the African-American community suffers and of course has suffered from perpetual lack of resources and community.  I felt and saw this strongly from participating in the walking tour. I wanted to see the non-visual aspects of the Harlem African American community – how the church, the schools, the community gathering places worked – to sustain a community or not, and in what ways – what social/cultural traditions does survive and become a sustainable. I saw and felt  pieces of this – eating lunch at Sylvia’s and seeing the local US House of Representative eating lunch with his wife eating lunch also in the same restaurant. And watching a man walking down the street come up and shake this person’s hand – how many people on the street know each other and see each other in community ways? So, perhaps I came away from this day with more questions than  answers.

Days #2  & #3: (June 6th, Tuesday, Walking Tour of Lower East Side – Tenement Museum: Then and Now, AND June 7th Wednesday, Tour of Tenement Museum) – Going from the personal to the professional, or the professional to the personal?

The walking tour today made clear and so tangible the cyclical nature of sustainable features of the human community as well as migration patterns in the US in the past until the present. Walking in the middle of a community with layer upon layer of history due to migration phases (religious, ethnic, socio-economic) was fascinating. Hearing about the community organizations working to sustain the community is also neat to learn, and that they are a mixture of ethnicities. I went into a fabric shop and Rita told me she is from a Lebonese family who has been in the fabric business for 100 years. Her father was a tailor in Lebonon, and the family moved here forty years ago due to the war. I thought it was sad that the entrances to ancient Jewish temples are there but  not really a prominent feature. Yet the present community cohesiveness is admirable as they were able to plan the renovation of their public space. I loved loved the garden and how volunteers maintain it. Imagining the rows of tenement apartment buildings initially seemed to me to be marvelous with such a rich community – something is always happening on the street – no TV needed.

Then the tour inside the actual tenement building touched me in a personal way – not sure why. I know I would have breathing problems with the keresen and oil fuels in the hallway and in the apts. I think I probably would not survive in such an environment. The apts felt cozy and in each decade one can tell how the space though small provided a sense of safety and home. Young children do not really know how small their first home is until going back to see it as an adult. Hearing the woman’s job carrying water, cooking, bearing children, then dealing with the stress and uncertainty provided another perspective removing a glamorized vision. Was the tenement section a ghetto in that people couldn’t get out unless they have a lucky break? – the example of the woman who received the $600 from an inheritance in Europe. The class and ethnic rankings was also interesting and especially how the rankings change due to world economic, religious, and political changes. The migration patterns are a mirror of the world – the local to the global.

Idea for project: I feel the physical limitations of space at the loft force me to rethink my idea of taking undergraduate students in the CI 3000, Block I Learner Diversity course. I also teach CI 5045 Advanced Topics in Diversity – these are graduate students who do an initial self-assessment on their level of global citizenship. The assessment includes areas of fear, stereotypes or prejudice  that they can self-identify. Then the students read, discuss, write and research a topic related to their selected area of personal/professional growth. The final project is an action plan for doing something as a teacher that directly relates to their identified area of growth. So I can see students coming to the NYC loft and doing research/seeing places that support and extend their topic focus maintained during the course. A smaller group of students, and as this is an online course and as they participated in online discussion forums and lit circles, they would be meeting each other in person for the first time. I know these students are often parents with full-time jobs thus making such a trip maybe not possible. But this is what my project will be about – going back into the course and extending it to a study away in NYC. Students will go to places that relate to their topic – not everyone will go to everything together.

Day #4:  (Tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island)




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