EAST CHICAGO | Ten graduate students from Harvard University will devote their semester to designing development plans for the downtown Indiana Harbor neighborhood of East Chicago.
Students and Richard Peiser, professor of Real Estate Development at the Graduate School of Design, met with a number of stakeholders in the community Friday, including representatives from PNC Bank, BP Whiting Refinery, the Indiana Forum and the city engineer.
It's part of a field study project where the students will gain a deeper understanding of the complexities in real urban environments. Their work will specifically focus on the Indiana Harbor.
The students spent the past three days touring different aspects of the city and meeting with residents and leaders. Wednesday they toured the ArcelorMittal steel mill, and Thursday included a tour of the harbor and lakefront.
"There's a lot more going on in the North Harbor area than I anticipated, both with the demolitions of vacant buildings and construction of new housing," Peiser said.
Peiser said East Chicago's access to Lake Michigan and the developed industry within the city present a unique set of issues.
"A lot more students signed up for the East Chicago field study than could get into the class," Peiser said, adding the class had about 25 students sign up but only enough room for 10.
The areas of study range from architecture, real estate development, urban planning and landscape architecture.
Tom Skwierawski, one of the students, said he and his classmates spent hours studying data about the city before the visit.
"We've spent a lot of time looking at census data and using Google Maps," Skwierawski said. "Being on the ground really helps."
Another student, Zhiping Liu, agreed that the city has a strong vision.
"It's just a matter of putting all the ingredients together and come out with a more physical strategy, including real estate financial assessments, social and environmental considerations," Liu said.
Waterfront access and downtown also were mentioned by the students as strengths the community can leverage with the right development.
"All the people here seem very enthusiastic and are eager to see positive improvements in their community," student Ning Pei said.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland will visit the students during midterms in Cambridge, Mass., The city will also receive a recommendation report at the end of the semester, which the administration can use for its own development plans.
"This is the 10th of 11 field studies I've participated in around the world, and I've never had a city as engaged in this process as East Chicago," Peiser said. "That's epitomized by the level of engagement from the city administration and Mayor Copeland."