Press Releases


Date Released: 5/1/2006

A program focusing on Post-Katrina New Orleans is the first collaborative effort of the newly-formed Center for the Living City at Purchase College State University of New York. By taking nine Purchase students—studying in fields as diverse as journalism, environmental studies, anthropology and new media—to New Orleans for four days, the Center initiated its commitment to focus journalists and others on the complex, interconnected issues that define cities. Hurricane Katrina and its devastation of New Orleans have tragically laid bare the dynamics of urban conditions, making the city the perfect lens through which to understand these complex issues.

Inspired by the work of the late author/activist Jane Jacobs and in collaboration with her, the Center was established in 2005 to develop symposia, training programs, fellowships, internships, workshops, research and publications, all of which approach city building issues using collaborative, participatory and transdisciplinary processes. Until her death, Ms. Jacobs had been advising students at the Center at Purchase.

The Center is committed to illustrating the significant precepts of Ms. Jacobs, whose first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), remains one of the most influential books on urbanism of the 20th century.

A start-up grant awarded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund made it possible for Purchase College, SUNY, and the Center for the Living City to establish their partnership. The grant was awarded only two weeks before Hurricane Katrina. Once the hurricane hit, the Center’s first project became clear—bring a group of students to New Orleans as soon as possible.

During the students’ four days in New Orleans, they observed aspects of the city first hand, gaining an understanding of one of Jacobs’ fundamental precepts: that direct, on-the-ground observation is the key to understanding urban realities. The students interviewed citizens, activists, architects, preservationists, musicians, local journalists, developers, a minister, an educator, a cultural leader and others. Each student wrote three news stories based on these meetings. Guided by urbanist and Center founder Roberta Brandes Gratz, the group held many discussions about urban issues, as revealed in New Orleans but related to cities everywhere. The four days turned into a moving classroom.

Subsequently, the Center entered into a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York, developing an exhibition of photographs and accompanying texts “Learning From Disaster: New Orleans After Katrina.”  The exhibition opened April 20th and will run through June 13th. Gratz, an award-winning journalist and author, curated the show with another Center founder, Richard Rabinowitz, historian and museum planner whose recent show, “Slavery in New York” at the New York Historical Society, gained international acclaim. The New Orleans exhibit primarily uses excerpts from the students’ stories of the people, places and issues they found in New Orleans, most of which have not been covered in the national press.  The exhibition also marks the inaugural collaboration of Purchase College and the Museum of the City of New York.

The collaboration between the Center for the Living City and Purchase College brings together committed leaders in the field of community development, journalism, the arts, design, education and preservation with the full resources of the unique liberal arts programming offered by the College.

The collaboration between Purchase College and the Center will engage and educate communities, citizens and the media about the interconnectedness of city building issues. Too often these issues are communicated as separate, unrelated stories and issues, and the Center will work to help citizens and policy makers alike connect the elements of human settlement building. 

A holistic approach to managing the interconnected forces pressing upon the development patterns of cities is essential today. These forces include environmental fragility, and changing economic and social conditions.  Whether understanding the relationships of city building to global warming, the relationships of transportation and mobility to numerous public health issues, or the relationship of neighborhood safety to building typology, people in communities express the need for information about these interconnections and for the tools that will inform choices they can make about their future. Quite simply, the need is to provide citizens with clear choices about the way places are developed, but also how citizens can participate in the development of their places. Without knowing what choices they have, communities lack the vocabulary and tools to implement change.

Key participants in the Center include: Roberta Brandes Gratz, author, lecturer, award-winning journalist, civic activist and current NYC Landmarks Commissioner; Stephen Goldsmith, Director of the Frederick P. Rose Architectural Fellowship program, former city planning director, lecturer, affordable mixed-use housing developer, activist and environmental artist; Richard Rabinowitz, historian and president of the American History Workshop;  Ron Shiffman, former director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, and professor of planning at Pratt Institute; Samina Queraeshi, formerly the Henry R. Luce Professor in Family and Community at the University of Miami, and formerly the head of the Design Arts Program for the National Endowment for the Arts; and Mary Rowe, Senior Urban Fellow, Blue Moon Fund, based in Toronto.

For further information contact: Roberta Brandes Gratz,