Course Guide: 2001 Syllabus

Course Description

In this interdisciplinary course, we will investigate the complex question of how to create effective city spaces. Using a series of case studies from the Rudy Bruner Award for Excellence in the Urban Environment, we will explore what makes the city "work": how innovative people have redesigned the places in which they live, work and play. Physical space, in turn, helps to construct the inner lives of its inhabitants -- their dreams, thoughts, fears, anger, desires, attachments. These feelings are best recorded in works of art. As we discuss the model community projects, we will analyze stories, poems, essays, paintings, and music that engage similar issues. We will look at the overt and hidden connections between people and nature, people and each other, and people and their multiple, interlocking histories within the city. We'll also consider how to make the city a safer place and how to empower citizens to make positive changes in their neighborhoods.

Required Text

Because this course combines materials from both the humanities and social sciences, all reading materials will be made available to you in a xeroxed booklet (and in supplemental xeroxes, as needed) and/or on the course website.

Course Requirements and Evaluations

Reading Responses
Classwork and Participation
City Story
Methodology Project
Case Study (group project)

Reading Responses. Most weeks you will be asked to submit a response to one or more of the readings assigned for discussion. Your reading responses should be a cross between a journal entry and an essay, an informal but thoughtful exploration in which you respond to the text. To prepare your responses, consider the following questions:

  • What do you find interesting, thought-provoking, unusual, or moving in the text?
  • What ideas, images, characters, situations, or narrative strategies fascinate or trouble you? Why?
  • What do you think of the characters? Why?
  • Do the characters transform as the story unfolds? Are changes in fortune or circumstance accompanied by a new understanding of the self or of the surrounding world?
  • How does the story - its characters, scenarios, conflicts - relate to our world today? To you personally?
  • What questions does the text raise about our cities? our society?
  • What makes the text powerful?

Your reading responses should be thoughtful and show careful reflection. Avoid summaries; instead, explore ideas. Feel free to ask questions and attempt to answer them in your response.

Reading responses should be 2-3 pages double spaced and are due at the beginning of class. If you miss a class but wish to submit a reading response, you may send it via email.

Classwork and Participation. We will begin each class with a short project related to that week's topic. You might, for example, be asked to free write about an issue raised in one of the readings, to make connections between two or more texts, or to explain how one of the ideas in the texts relates to your neighborhood. There are a total of 13 class meetings; you will be responsible for a minimum of 10 in-class projects. In addition, we ask that you participate regularly and thoughtfully in class discussions and group projects. The course website will also offer opportunities for class participation.

City Story. You will be asked to create a city "story" - a poem, short story, video, photo essay, collection of profiles, etc. In the course, we discuss many imaginative works, now is your chance to generate an original piece, to share your private vision or narrative of city life. Before generating your project, you will write a short proposal defining what you plan to do. When the projects are complete, you will each present yours to the class to be discussed and admired.

Methodology Project and Case Study. Your group project will be to form a team of 3-4 to conduct your own case study modeled after the Rudy Bruner Awards. Your job will be to develop a deep understanding of an effective New York City metropolitan area "urban place" -- how it came about, how it affects its community, how and why it succeeds, how it might be further recreated to further improve city life. Once you select your site, your team will conduct a study of the space and work with an instructor to evaluate the physical design of the space; the political, financial, and overall planning processes that took place to create the space; and the effects (both actual and intended) of the space on the community.

Course Outline

Below is a tentative course outline. We will do our best to stick to this schedule, but please note that this syllabus is subject to change. You will be notified in advance of all changes.



Assignment Due


§          Introduction to course.

§          Walking tour of MetroTech.

§          William Blake, “London”




§          From Alan Jacobs, Looking at Cities:  “Starting to Look” and "Clues"

§          Film, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

§          Lewis Mumford, "The Culture of Cities"

§          E. B. White, "Here Is New York"

MetroTech impression piece.


The City and Nature

§          Bruner Case Study:  NYC Greenmarket

§          Robert Sommer, “Farmers' Markets as Community Events”

§          From the pastoral to the urban:  Poems by Yeats, Wordsworth, Whitman, and Auden

Reading response to two poems.


§          Bruner Case Study:  Harlem Meer

§          “Olmsted’s Trip”

§          John Updike, “Spring Rain"

§          Loren Eiseley, “The Judgment of Birds”

§          Lewis Thomas, "Antaeus in Manhattan"

§          Roger Ulrich, "View Through a Window May Influence Recovery from Surgery"

§          Hartig, et al, "Restorative Effects of Natural Environment Experiences"

Reading response to two texts.

Case study site proposal.


Presidents' Day – NO CLASS



City People: Connections/ Disconnections

§          “Bartleby the Scrivener”

§          “The Overcoat”

§          Bruner Case Study, "Beyond Homelessness"

Response to “Bartleby” or “Overcoat.”

City story proposal.


Danger in the City

§          Paule Marshall, "Poets in the Kitchen"

§          Israel Horvitz, "The Indian Wants the Bronx"

§          "Defensible Space:  Deterring Crime and Building Community"

§          Randall Atlas and William LeBlanc, "The Impact of Environmental Road Devices on Crime:  Case Study Miami Shores, FL"

Response to "Poets" or "Indian."


Spring Break – NO CLASS



Empowering the Self

§          Bruner Case Studies:  The Times Square and Tenant Interim Lease Project

§          From The Bluest Eye and The Invisible Man

§          “The Lesson”

§          Langston Hughes, "Landlord, Landlord" and "Harlem"

Response to Bluest Eye, Invisible Man or “Lesson.”

City story.



The City and History

§          Film, The History of Paris

§          From Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

§          Charles Baudelaire, “The Swan”

§          Roland Barthes, “Eiffel Tower”

§          Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Cafeteria”

Response to “The Swan” and Freud.



§          Bruner Case Study:  Greenpoint Manufacturing Co-Op

§          Marshall Berman, "In the Forest of Symbols:  Some Notes on Modernism in New York"

§          Bruner Awards, "What Was Learned About Excellence"

§          From Jonathan Kozol, Amazing Grace

Methodology project.


The City and the Arts

§          James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

§          Jazz; video, Voices and Visions:  Langston Hughes

Response to “Sonny’s Blues.”


§          Bruner Case Study:  Project Rowhouse

§          Art in and about the city

Response to two paintings.

Case study outline.


§          Trip to Brooklyn Bridge

§          Hart Crane’s “Brooklyn Bridge”

§          Graffiti

Response to story.


Case study workshop

Case study draft.


(Date of final exam)

Final case study.