Course description

This course welcomes student interest in cities: their design, planning, development, and evolution over time. It provides an interpretative look at the characteristic patterns of settlement and attitudes towards cities and urban life that are identified with American urbanization. It introduces the American city as a culturally meaningful form and presents a body of historical and social material relevant to its study. The course seeks to foster a critical understanding of the cultural processes, policies, planning, and design actions, which have influenced American urbanization, while introducing the visual and analytic skills necessary for its interpretation. The course chronicles the love-hate attitude that Americans have shown toward their cities across history, evident in both utopian and pragmatic efforts to reconceive how and in what shape cities and urban regions should grow. While not abandoning long-standing precedents of urban organization, Americans have consistently sought alternative ways to form communities. This search for alternatives originally proceeded in concert with a body of ideals that became fundamental to the European Enlightenment, and soon after to the explosion of urban growth brought about by the Industrial Revolution. American cities heralded the arrival of the modern world. This is key to their appreciation. The course also seeks analogies, comparisons and contrasts between urban growth during the periods of rapid American urbanization, and the even more rapid urban growth currently taking place in many regions of the world. As American cities grew largely in emulation of and contrast with their much older European counterparts, so do today many cities globally seek inspiration from and attempt to improve upon the American urban experience.


  • Professor in Practice of Urban Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design
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