Mapping City Stories

People, Narrative, Data, Image and Place

View course poster here

Fall 2015
City Planning 291, CCN 14607
Rhetoric 240G, CCN 78107
4 units

Instructor: Susan Moffat (Global Urban Humanities Initiative Project Director)

Tu/Th 9-11am
Wurster Hall 501 (North Tower Fifth Floor Architecture Studio)

Approval of instructor required for registration; please fill out questionnaire here and return to before the first day of class.

Course Description

In this interdisciplinary workshop-style course, graduate students from many disciplines will learn hands-on techniques of observing, analyzing and representing time, space, and experience in the urban realm in order to better understand and communicate about cities. Cities are physical places, but they are also assemblages of bodies and experiences; the locus and result of memory; and systems of interacting flows and institutions. Humans understand cities through linear narratives as well as spatial experience and representation. The way we analyze and represent these spaces and activities has important implications for the design, building, and management of cities as well as for our understanding of the history, art, and performance that occurs in urban settings and the ecosystems that support them.

In this course, we will sample techniques used in archeology, architecture, art history, art practice, city planning, ethnography, film, geography, journalism, landscape architecture, literature, and oral history to investigate and represent urban spaces. We will reflect on the ways that different disciplines approach urban problems and the methodological, ethical, and aesthetic dilemmas that occur in the process of interpreting and intervening in cities. We will question the ways we define and use evidence and reflect on our habits of representation.

Guest speakers will enhance the discussions of selected methods. Students will carry out field work and hands-on exercises in methods including mapmaking, GIS, drawing, interviewing, graphic design, photography, videos and using bodies to measure space.

Students will not master any of these methods in the short amount of time available. Rather, the course aims to give students enough experience with a technique to begin to understand its grammar, potential uses, and constraints, and to work in teams using those techniques. By the end of the course, students will be able to make basic maps, research posters, short videos, and effective slideshows about urban places, whether contemporary or historical.

No previous experience is necessary. For students who already have some background in these techniques, the course will be an opportunity to interrogate conventions of representation, experiment with new approaches, and engage in dialogue with faculty and students from outside urban planning about issues of analysis and intervention.

We will be examining novels, films, drawings, children’s books, journalism, videos, maps, plans, photos, and data visualizations as artifacts that are sources of information on cities; as modes of urban and spatial analysis; and as models of representation for expressing what we will find out in our research on city neighborhoods over the course of the semester.

Readings will provide a springboard for discussion of student experiences in workshop assignments. Authors and artists to be considered may include Raymond Carver, William Cronon, Guy Debord, James Joyce, Aldo Leopold, Kevin Lynch, Robert McCloskey, Franco Moretti, Jacob Riis, Miroslav Sasek, Akira Kurosawa, Ananya Roy, John Stilgoe, Edward Tufte, William Whyte, and Denis Wood.

By the end of the course, each student will have enhanced their ability to study urban places and to take informed action in cities through an improved knowledge of the context of their home discipline and an increased familiarity with other disciplines. Each student will have identified new methods that may merit further exploration depending on their research and practice directions.