We are Eli and Alex, juniors studying abroad through the International Honors Program: Cities in the 21st Century. As Urban Studies students, we chose this program because of its focus on the people, planning and politics of cities around the world, including New York, Ahmedabad, São Paulo and Cape Town. During our first week, we learned that one of the program’s core values is social justice. As we travel this semester, we will not only learn about the cities’ problems but also explore possible solutions. We will have multiple guest speakers throughout the program who will give us insight on the historical context and current issues of the cities. Finally, we will take four classes that will give us a well rounded view of each city as well as comparative lenses. They are: Urban Politics and Development, Culture and Society of World Cities, Contemporary Urban Issues, and Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments.
Throughout the semester we will have “Neighborhood Days.” We get paired up with different people in the group of thirty to explore a neighborhood and learn about its culture as well as the changes it has undergone over time. We also speak to an organization that works inside the community to get an understanding of what is going on. The next day, the groups present what they learned about their specific neighborhood. This past Thursday we had our first one here in New York City. Alex’s neighborhood was in Southwest Brooklyn along the waterfront where he observed the industrial development of New York and how that area is still being preserved as an industrial site. The residents in the neighborhood are predominantly working-class and depend on the industrial businesses as a source for jobs. The neighborhood is known for being a “walk to work” area because the industrial businesses hire local residents and assist them in getting jobs where they can gain skills that will help them in terms of mobility. Eli’s neighborhood was Port Richmond, Staten Island. While exploring this neighborhood, she and her group learned that it is predominantly populated by Mexican immigrants as well as African Americans. This could be gleaned from the businesses and services offered. They visited Make the Road, an organization that works with immigrant communities to achieve survival services such as adult literacy, citizenship and wage protection. There, they spoke to an Ecuadorian woman who had faced many hardships while living in the States but had found solace in the community she found in Staten Island. It was interesting to learn that the streets of Port Richmond were once lively but rumors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids kept many in their homes for fear of harassment and deportation. Learning about Port Richmond was interesting to Eli because as a New Yorker, she had always viewed Staten Island as a predominantly white and affluent borough but speaking to this neighborhood’s people and learning about its challenges made her see it in a new light.
Elizabeth (Eli) Valenzuela ’17 and Alex Perez ’17