From Mexico City to Memphis

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Last night, at the presentation of the Francis Mah Travel Grant lecture, daughter Susan Mah gave a Letterman-style top 10 list about the way her architect "dad lived life."

Among them: Wear blue jeans everyday. Family first. Keep it simple. Travel often. And learn about other cultures.

The last two explain a lot about the grant, currently in its 12th year.

Linda Suhajdova, the 2008 recipient, traveled to Mexico City last July to look at megacities and urbanization, specifically its effect on poverty.

Out of Mexico City's 20 million people, about 60 percent live in poverty, many in self-built houses on the periphery of the city. Suhajdova planned to work with an NGO to work with people who lived in these areas, but once in Mexico, she wasn't allowed because of security concerns.

"People are the most important characteristic of a city," she said, expressing her dismay at not being allowed to interact more closely with them.

While in Mexico City, Suhajdova lived in a neighborhood called La Condesa, which, unlike much of the city's rigid grid system, is a series of concentric circles. The area used to be a racetrack and the track became avenues.

Suhajdova also pointed out that there used to be several lakes in the Mexico City regional area, but they were all drained to create land for more housing. Not coincedentally, the city is sinking and has problems with storm run-off.

Next year's travel grant will focus on Switzerland.

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