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Can you tell us about your work?
After the disaster, the federal government hosted a competition that would award nearly a billion dollars to the most innovative proposals to repair the region. Known as Rebuild by Design, the contest encouraged projects that would not just restore but re-imagine the urban landscape, planning ahead for the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. The winning ideas would be the ones that also best integrated the needs and wants of the people living there, says Nupur Chaudhury ’01, Rebuild By Design’s senior project manager. “Commitment to communities. It’s first and foremost,” she says.
In constant communication with local and federal agencies as well as community members, Nupur does a lot of listening, negotiating and problem solving. The process requires a lot of “English-to-English” translation, she says.
“There’s a need for palatable information for communities,” says Nupur, who created a six-week curriculum in urban planning for non-planners at one of her previous jobs. Nor is the translating she does limited to the community. She manages highly interdisciplinary teams of experts, and while “they are often talking about the same things, they use very different vocabulary.”
How does your work help the community?
Trained in both urban design and public health, Nupur is uniquely poised to help the architects, elected officials and community members working to rehabilitate the hurricane-affected neighborhoods see the connections between infrastructure and the overall wellbeing of a community. Consider the links between building safe, well-lit sidewalks and bringing down local rates of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, she says. Almost all the winning proposals would create open space where people can walk, bike and socialize.
The Hunts Point “Lifelines” is just such a project—designed to bring open space, walkways and jobs as well as storm protection to the Bronx, the nation’s poorest Congressional district. The common perception perpetuated by the media, says Nupur, is that residents of the Bronx, many of whom live in public housing, don’t care about their community and certainly don’t care about conservation.
“When you talk do them, they do care,” she says. “This is their home. They aren’t willing to move, and they shouldn’t have to. My work is to figure out how to work with a community that plans to stay.”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
Nupur was always interested in cities. Growing up spending time in India, she compared and contrasted urban life in Boston versus Kolkata, where her father grew up, and Surat, her mother’s hometown.
That kind of critical thinking, she says, has its origins at Winsor. “Winsor taught me how to think outside the box, build a new box and enroll people to hang out in that box with me,” she says. She cites Byron Parrish, who wore a different advocacy group’s lapel button to her math class every day, as an early influence on her thinking about social justice. Nupur also remains eternally grateful to Jean Berg P’77, ’81, ’85, who recruited her to the debate team and model U.N. “The skills she taught me still serve me today. Not a day goes by I don’t think about her,” she says.
Today, when she thinks about her role, Nupur envisions herself most like an SOCIAL acupuncturist. She’s adept at sensing where the energy is blocked and finding ways to make life flow a little better.
“My career—there is no name for what I do, but I know in my heart it needs to be done,” she says. “I have the privilege of challenging the normal narrative. When I ask questions, be still and think about what needs to be done, it becomes very clear on how to act and how to serve communities and this world.”
What did you study?
I did my B.A. from Bryn Mawr College. I also have a MUP (Urban Planning) from NYU and a Public Health Masters (MPH) from Columbia University.