Online Blog - Research and Reflective Practice

Research and Reflective practice is an ongoing goal of the class. An online blog and class discussion will be used to help students understand the culture, identity, of Valparaíso. In addition, the online blog is intended to deepen your understanding of some of the core issues of planning practice.

Students will be expected to keep a blog where reflection assignments will be completed weekly. These assignments are geared to explore issues faced by planners during the planning process as well as document student professional growth and experiences working in multi-disciplinary teams. Many of the reflection exercises will focus on the following themes and questions:

  • How are you combining your values, education and actions in complex situations in the professional work of the class?
  • How are you learning from experiences? How are your experiences shaping your view of what it means to be good planner and what you need to be effective as a planner?
  • What are the key issues, opportunities and challenges of your project? How are these similar to and different from other planning problems?

Prompts for the blog entries will be published on the homepage of the blog on the second session of each week. Blog entries should be posted no later than the following session. In the event of any technical issues posting to the blog, entries should be emailed to the TA. Entries that are not on the blog or emailed by this deadline will be considered late.

Since there are likely to be times when student course load is overwhelming, each student will be able to skip two (2) blog posts without penalty. There is no need to notify the professor or TA in advance if and when a blog post is skipped; however, it is the student’s responsibility to keep track of how many posts they have skipped. More than two missing blog posts will negatively affect grading.

Note: The class blog is not available to OCW users. 

Disaster Mitigation Plans, Planners and Policies

In preparation for international fieldwork, students will explore and analyze a mitigation plan in a U.S. city or town.

Effective memo writing examples (PDF - 1.15MB)

Deliverable: 5-page memo on a disaster mitigation plan.

Field Research and Report - Detailed research, analysis and planning in priority areas on-the-ground results

In this second phase, student teams will undertake in-depth research, analysis and design in project areas in Valparaíso. Once on the ground, students need to understand the requirements needed to realize goals and opportunities of the projects by assessing existing resources and assets, identifying critical obstacles and resources gaps to address, and defining other factors that shape effective strategies and interventions to generate the client’s desired revitalization goals for the district.

While specific research tasks will depend on the project and the client, tasks may include conducting interviews with key stakeholders, surveying existing district customers and businesses, researching applicable zoning and regulatory obstacles, investigating design options, identifying best practices used in comparable neighborhoods/districts, and analyzing potential resources for implementation.

Based on this detailed research, students will develop findings and recommendations for their final report.

Background Valparaíso Case

Deliverable: 5–7 page Field Report

Poster & Presentation

Create a poster about your project. Your poster should speak to the planning issue(s) in New Orleans that you are researching and writing about. What question can you ask that will pull a reader into your poster and get him/her thinking about your project? What issues are you working on? What data have you gathered? What story can you tell about your planning issue in New Orleans?


Alternatively, create a poster for your client’s needs. This poster could inform neighborhood groups about a particular planning issue. This poster could graphically showcase how citizens can understand design standards easily and efficiently, and/or this poster could help citizens understand the importance of using public transportation. In other words, it could be used as part of a community campaign to bring attention to a planning issue in New Orleans. Posters will be made part of an exhibit that showcases the work of our students working in New Orleans. Posters should be 20”x30”, either direction.

Please upload a copy of your PowerPoint presentation as well as a one-page handout that stands on its own in terms of explaining your presentation. The presentation should include visuals (graphics, images, charts, maps, etc.) as much as possible.

Valparaíso (“Valpo” locally) is a port city about 70 miles/110 km northwest of Santiago. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the country and is widely considered to be an educational center commune (administrative subdivision) with four large universities and several vocational schools. In the first half of the twentieth century, Valparaíso suffered a significant economic downturn due to decreased shipping traffic following the opening of the Panama Canal, which worsened in the second half of the twentieth century as wealthy families left the city. Since the turn of the century, however, it has experienced an artistic and cultural resurgence. Valparaíso, is now known as a beautiful artist community city on the water.

On April 12, 2014, just two weeks after an 8.2-magnitude earthquake in northern Chile killed 5 people and destroyed 2,635 houses, a fire in Valparaíso killed 15 people, seriously injured 10, destroyed 2,500 houses, and left 11,000 homeless. This disaster has been called the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” and President Michelle Bachalet declared the commune a disaster zone. Immediately following the fire, the state declared constitutional exception, which gave the Chilean Army control of the city for several days.

At least six power outages during the blaze impeded efforts to extinguish it and also gave thieves opportunities to loot abandoned houses. Some reports suggested that the extent of the damage was due in part to political failures (e.g. reliance on unpaid volunteer fire fighters, insufficient equipment, lack of running water for hoses, etc.). Residents have since begun rebuilding, with varied support from the international community (e.g. the American Jewish Committee, a nonprofit based in New York, raised $2,800 through Indiegogo in May for home rebuilding efforts). Less direct but larger in scale, the College of Architects of Valparaíso has submitted a proposal for a new urban plan that includes redirecting local streams, creating a metropolitan park, and other reformative components that clearly support the notion of disaster as economic opportunity.

The struggle of Valparaíso post-fire seems to derive from competing visions for a future state of the city. Divergent views on what is a successful recovery abound. Statistics point to a continuing downward spiral. Many have not returned after evacuating. Entire housing projects have been devastated. Many neighborhoods have not even begun to recover while others have been quick to organize and reconstruct.

Valparaíso Workshop

The Valparaíso City-to-City workshop will jump into the complexity of planning post fire in Valparaíso along side its Chilean counter parts. Global Cityscope students seek to learn: How does a post-disaster city grapple with its ideas of identity, what it is, who it represents, and how it projects its sense of self to residences, businesses, tourists, and to the outside world? In considering its people, how do city planners think about who lives where and why? At the same time, how can city planners celebrate a city’s history and its culture and how can these elements be woven into reconstruction?

City-to-City students will work on real projects through the Spring Semester that could possibly lead to internships. Students will be exposed to planning activists, geographers, artists, city designers, policy makers, non-profit groups. Students will travel from Cambridge to Valparaíso over Spring Break to meet, consult with and present findings to and with their alumni clients. 

As part of our Chile Spring Workshop in Valparaíso, we will use history, social and political science, technical tools including GIS, digital media, on-the-ground field experience to explore the complexity of the city to reveal and propose solutions for its many problems. Each student will work within a small group, interacting with faculty, teaching assistants and Chilean students where s/he will participate in the following activities:

  • Map stakeholders
  • Evaluate current mitigation planning problems, solutions and successes.
  • Identify, interview and survey stakeholders in a planning environment.
  • Work with on-the-ground planners to select an appropriate tool to inform the project team. Tools may include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GPS planning techniques, cell phones to survey, among other techniques.
  • Be exposed through the use of multi-media materials, conversations, readings and planners to the disaster, the people, the processes and the projects that planners are developing.
  • Shadow a planner exercise — working on the ground and in the field, each student will be assigned to a planning agency for the day. The student will work on day-to-day tasks, learning what it means to be a planner in the field.

What is your town’s Mitigation Plan?

Decide on a town to research. We prefer that you use your hometown, if possible. As someone from the town, you will better understand town dynamics, town threats, town government, and maybe even town politics.

Find a copy of your town’s mitigation plan, if there is one, and analyze the plan.

Refer to APA FEMA Hazard Mitigation: Integrating Best Practices into Planning Chapter 2, page 19, which discusses the problems with town mitigation plans. In this section are specific criticisms of these types of plans.

Refer also to Drabek’s “Managing the Emergency Response” where he reviews town responses to a variety of disasters.

  1. Provide a short background analysis of your town’s location, population level, key industries, etc. (You might make use of census data and maps for this section of your report).
  2. Describe the mitigation plan:
    • What possible threats has the town/city identified?
    • What natural hazards and man-made hazards is the town preparing for in the mitigation plan?
    • Are there warning systems included in the plans?
    • Is there an emergency operations center?
    • Are there community disaster exercises?
    • What communication plans has the town created?
    • Who is in charge when an emergency happens?
    • Who does the pre-planning before a disaster happens?
    • Who does the post-disaster planning after a disaster?
  3. Analyze the Plan:

After you have described the key points that the plan, put on your analysis hat. Does this plan seem to be a viable plan to follow during an emergency? Explain. Does this plan create a process for handling an emergency? Is this plan a product that sits on a shelf?

Think about the cycle of disaster that we have discussed in class: Mitigation➔Preparedness➔Response➔Recovery. Can you identify steps of emergency planning in your town’s mitigation plan? Does the mitigation plan recognize and touch on each aspect of the cycle of disasters? Explain.

Your memo should be no more than 5 pages, single-spaced, excluding tables, charts, and graphics.

A draft version of your memo is due Session 6. It’s OK if your draft exceeds the page count – more to work with!

The final version of the memo in proper formatting should be uploaded to the class website by Session 8.