Calendar and Lecture Summaries


Arrival in New Orleans

January New Orleans Trip Itinerary (PDF)

Reflection 1 due before arrival in New Orleans

Course Introduction: Main Street Sites and Issues Urban Neighborhood Decline: Causes, Consequences, and Challenges

This class discusses the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s (NTHP) Main Streets program model in more detail and introduces the class to the newly created New Orleans Main Street Program and to the St. Claude Avenue Main Streets District.

The class also introduces the problems facing urban commercial districts, the causes and forces behind their decline, and describes some of the economic and physical consequences of their decline.


New Orleans Background: Social, Political, and Development History

We will begin the process of building our understanding of the New Orleans context by reviewing readings on the history of New Orleans—emphasizing its political and physical development. An important question for this class is the extent to which pre-Katrina challenges reflect common issues of urban disinvestment and decline or have a unique character given New Orleans’ history. We will also explore how the pre-Katrina conditions shape the current rebuilding issues and challenges.


Katrina Impact, Disaster Recovery, and New Orleans’ Planning Process

This discussion will occur during a special dinner session. Students and community members will discuss the impact of Katrina, efforts to recover and how previous and new planning processes fit into the revitalization plans for the city.


Urban Design and Development: Ways of Seeing and Listening

Ways of seeing the built environment will be explored. How do we use maps, visual clues, and other kinds of information to gather information about a place? An overview of techniques for “seeing” the city and using clues to evaluate environments will be discussed during our tour of the St. Claude Avenue Main Streets District. Ways of seeing economic districts will also be presented. Readings are also included on citizen participation in the planning process and the uses of oral history in constructing a vision and plan. Please be sure to do the reading prior to the trip!


Physical Design and Economic  Planning Tools I Preparation for Field Work

Economic Development: Theories of Retail/Identifying Retail Niches Urban Design: Change in Neighborhood Commercial Districts

We will begin the discussion of physical and economic tools during our walking tour of the St. Claude Avenue Main Streets District and there will be follow-up discussions when we return to Cambridge. During the tour, several urban design and economic development tools will be introduced to the students.

We will provide an overview of the built environment/architecture of neighborhood commercial districts and describe the changes that have occurred to these features during the 20th Century. We will discuss the historic form of these districts, the unsympathetic alterations to them that have occurred in the last fifty years, and some of the efforts that are now being made to restore or complement these features.

In addition, we will discuss economic theories of how retail centers work and how they apply to downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. We also will discuss the role of niche specialization in business districts and how to identify and evaluate economic and retail niches. Strategies for using urban design and public realm enhancements to revitalize commercial districts will also be explored.


Presentation/Discussion of Observations with St. Claude Main Street Representative

Meeting with University of New Orleans Planning Studio working on retail development plan for Gentilly neighborhood

Field work and meetings

Assignment 1 due

Field work and client presentation

  Return to MIT  

Revitalization Strategies I and II

This class extends the discussion of urban commercial district decline to neighborhood centers and introduces several approaches to urban neighborhood revitalization. It describes the spatial temporal pattern of progressive downtown decline, introduces definitions and concepts of revitalization, and discusses revitalization strategies that encompass housing restoration, reinvestment and resident employment. The use of art and culture as a revitalization strategy will also be explored.

Reflection 2 due before class

Project Discussion and Planning

This class is devoted to reviewing what we have learned about the St. Claude Avenue Main Street District and drafting plan outlines. Discussion will include key revitalization issues, the uses of visioning in the planning process, potential elements of a revitalization plan, challenges, concerns, feasibility issues around the regional food market strategy, how the UNOP District 7 plan informs our work, and framing project tasks for the next three weeks. Other themes to consider for this discussion include: how economic development and physical planning interrelate in each study area and which are the historic and current roles of racial, class and gender issues in the district and City of New Orleans.

Review background reports

Reflect on key issues, challenges and plans elements

List tasks to complete phase one analysis


Economic Planning Tools II: Retail Market Analysis and Economic Planning Economic Planning Tools III: Asset and Capacity Assessment

Lecture slides (PDF
Ethnic retail market analysis (PDF) (Courtesy of Prof. Karl Seidman and graduate student. Used with permission.)

Market Analysis is critical to evaluating the economic potential of business districts and identifying which specific retail and service businesses are most likely to be viable in a specific Main Streets district. We will use two market study reports, one for Salem Massachusetts and one for Downtown Detroit to review and assess market analysis approaches. With our focus on developing a food market center in St. Claude, we will also discuss what type of market analysis is needed to better understand the potential, opportunities and barriers for food-related development uses.

This class will also review several frameworks for understanding and evaluating community assets and capacity and discuss how they can be applied to better understand the opportunities and constraints in each neighborhood.

Assignment 2 due: Summaries of background reports and key documents

Work Session on Existing Conditions Analysis

This class will give students an opportunity to work in teams to discuss progress on their existing conditions analysis, present questions & issues they are confronting, and to determine how they can organize & analyze the information they have collected.

Reflection 3 due

Summarize work status and findings to date. Identify key tasks to complete analysis


Urban Food Systems and Issues

Sustainable neighborhoods and commercial districts

Work session


Physical Design Tools II: Streetscape Physical Design Tools III: Image and Neighborhood Form

This class will provide an overview of the public realm of Main Street commercial districts — its streets, sidewalks, and open spaces. It will discuss the different ways in which streets, sidewalks, and public amenities can enhance or detract from the public realm and introduce methods used to enhance streets for both pedestrians and automobiles. The class will look at streetscape modifications and other physical improvements as tools to develop enhancements to a neighborhood commercial district’s sense of place through the perception of neighborhood residents and shoppers.

13 Work Session Continue existing conditions analysis work

Presentations of Student Work/Discussion of Next Client Presentation

The students will make a presentation on Phase I analysis findings. Presentations will include assessment of existing physical conditions, results of demographic and market analysis, analysis of food industry issues and opportunities and key issues, agendas and possible elements of the revitalization plan. Students must also present a work plan and schedule for moving forward. Discussion is intended to assist the teams in codifying ideas, focusing on challenge areas, and moving toward project goals.

Prepare summary presentation of existing conditions analysis

Early March through April

Class sessions beginning the second week in March and continuing through April concentrate on the major policies and interventions available to advance revitalization visions. These represent potential plan elements and levers that need to be customized to the local vision, goals and conditions. Readings provide background on these interventions and examples of how communities have applied them. The purpose of each class is to explore how these interventions may apply to the St. Claude Avenue Main Streets District and to develop specific ideas how to incorporate them into a district plan.

15 Work Session

Reflection 4 and 5 due

Continue work on existing conditions analysis


Policies and Interventions I: Development Policies and Interventions II: Design and Zoning Guidelines

In this class, we will focus on the role of real estate development, both new construction and rehabilitation of existing buildings, in bringing new economic activity to neighborhood Main Street districts. The Central Avenue Corridor Plan for Albany, New York and the Worcester, Massachusetts Arts District Master Plan will provide case studies for this discussion. Key topics will include the role of catalyst projects, overcoming development obstacles, the role of existing building owners, and the merits of new construction versus rehabilitation. This class will also discuss the role of transportation in neighborhood revitalization and approaches to strengthening and leveraging transportation assets for commercial activity and development through the application of transit-oriented development principles.

This class will also discuss the roll of zoning guidelines in shaping development and the reasons for creating design guidelines for a commercial district. We will use examples from the two Boston-area commercial revitalization plans. The class will also review sample design guidelines from various Main Streets programs. Please note that there are quite a few readings for this session. Priority should be given to the first seven readings on the list below. The remaining four readings/reserve materials are supplemental and should be used as needed for your team work on creating overall development strategies and design and zoning frameworks for the districts.


Synthesis and Reflection

Synthesis classes are meant as in-class working sessions. Feedback during previous presentation discussions will be used to move projects forward and prepare for the first presentation of assessments and preliminary agendas/proposals to the client. Instructors will offer individual critiques and assistance throughout the class to prepare the students for a team presentation to the client during spring break.

Time will also be devoted to review and reflection on the planning work done to date, particularly the results and implications of the phase 1/existing conditions analysis for the client, project goals and our goals for the next field trip. Need to update the reflection exercise Students will write in their project journals to answer a series of questions regarding their role and the role of team members in the project and in New Orleans. The readings below are meant to guide the students in their reflection.

Work session to prepare for client presentation, in-class reflection assignment.

Reflection 6 due

Assignment 3 due: Draft of phase 1/existing conditions analysis section of plan


Draft Presentation

Students will do a dry-run of their draft client presentation based on the existing conditions analysis completed last week. Feedback from the class, faculty and guests will guide the students in making revisions and refinements through the end of the week before departure for New Orleans.


Work Session and Reflection

Additional work on finalizing the Phase 1 analysis and presentation. Specific goals, tasks and assignments for the field trip. Reflection on work to date, concerns and challenges for field trip. Discussion of reflections on course themes.


Field Trip to New Orleans for Half of the Class During Spring Break

Presentations to client and additional field work conducted during this week.


Report Back on Client Presentation and Feedback from New Orleans Trip

Students will report back on their New Orleans client presentation during spring break. Class discussion will focus on client feedback and a strategy for moving forward.

Discuss client feedback and generate proposal ideas and options

Generate proposal ideas and options. Identify planning tasks to develop and test proposals


Policies and Interventions III: Business Development, Retention, and Attraction Policies and Interventions IV: Marketing and Promotion

Lecture Slides (PDF)

As the economic foundation and key customer destination for commercial district, revitalization programs pay special attention to managing the mix and quality of business. These management efforts encompass two broad activities: (1) retaining and assisting existing businesses; and (2) attracting new enterprises. This class reviews approaches and issues related to achieving a desired mix of businesses and their relevance to the St. Claude Avenue Main Streets District. The Grossman reading, in particular, poses questions about whether new approaches developed to expand markets for micro-enterprises programs can be applied to business districts.

The class will also discuss the need for commercial centers to attract and sustain customer markets for their businesses and the overall district. We will look at the tools and approaches used to develop a district marketing image or position and to directly market the business districts to distinct customer groups.


Policies and Interventions V: Safety and Sanitation Policies and Interventions VI: Capacity Building and Implementation

Perceptions on crime and deterioration are a major obstacle to revitalization for many urban commercial districts and providing a safe and clean environment is often a precondition for progress on other revitalization goals. This class reviews approaches that Main Street programs and Business Improvement Districts us to address crime issues and improve the district cleanliness.

Strong organizations and mechanisms to strengthen coordination among key commercial district stakeholders are critical to successful implementation of revitalization plans. This class will look at two formal commercial district coordination mechanisms, Central Retail Management and Business Improvement Districts and review experience with collaborations from broader community development practice. A final part of the class will review and critique the implementation components of the Albany Central Avenue Plan to help provide insight into what constitutes effective implementation planning and proposals.

24 Work Session Continue work on proposal development

Work Session (cont.)

This in-class working session will seek to clarify major concepts of the plan and prioritize ideas and goals for the district. The students will use class time to articulate key concepts that will guide the goals and objectives of the revitalization plan and to develop a draft framework for the plan.


Presentations of Plan Frameworks

Students will have 20 minutes to present a summary of overall concepts and goals/objectives of the revitalization plan. A written outline of the plan framework (as an outline for the revitalization plan report) will show key elements of the plan in draft detail. After the presentations, the class will discuss the revitalization plan concepts and outlines and offer feedback to enable the class to move forward.


Synthesis: Elements of the Plan

Working with the plan framework presented in the previous session, students will begin to assign individual work and to develop elements of the plan during this working session.


Presentation of Draft Plan

Students will make a presentation of the draft plan to the class and invited guests in preparation for the trip to New Orleans and a presentation to the client committee. Presentation will focus on a summary of the work done to date and will feature major plan elements and will seek to identify links between elements of the plan, describe key findings, and illustrate key themes with clear and compelling graphics and text. Discussion will offer feedback on presentation style, clarity and effectiveness of graphics, and content of draft recommendations.


Work Session/Travel to New Orleans for Client Meeting

This working session will continue progress on the plan elements. Half of the class will travel to New Orleans today in preparation for a presentation to the client committee.

Revised presentation of draft plan in preparation for client meeting

Report Back on Client Meeting and Feedback on the Draft Plan Presentation

A discussion of the working process, areas of frustration, and lessons learned will seek to contribute to the students’ experience with reflective planning practice. The second half of the class will allow time for a presentation of the revised final plan and feedback from the class and others.

Review feedback on draft plans, ideas for revisions
31-32 Work Session Continue work to finalize plan and client presentation

Last Day of Class

Reflections presentation of revised plans

Reflection 7 due before class

Final Report/Plans Due

Copies of the final report/plans are due in the professor’s office.

Final report/plans due

Reflection 8 due two days after class

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples
Written Assignments