American Cities: The Struggle for Position and Identity

Course DescriptionThis studio will explore how cities position themselves for the future, building on their unique assets to create identity and working within the context of a global economy to redefine themselves. Providence and Worcester will serve as models for testing ideas about program, place, and strategies for orchestrating change. The studio will involve both independent and team efforts to produce district plans and implementation strategies that position warehouse areas immediately adjacent to the downtowns. Overview/Problem StatementCities rise and fall in response to economic and social pressures in their region, nation, and in the world. With each new cycle, cities need to maintain their position in a competitive environment with constantly changing circumstances. While global economies have always influenced city development, today these forces are radically changing the rules. Without ongoing investment of energy and resources, however, buildings and streets will disintegrate over time. In this semester, students will consider the following questions: What are the physical and institutional conditions under which one city may advance and another lose ground? How does a city make the most of its assets and regenerate itself for the next economic and social cycle? What is the appropriate level of intervention versus letting the market drive decisions? What is the role of collaboration and at what level is collaboration most effective – within the district, the city, the metropolitan area, or the region? Is success a zero sum game?In order to explore these issues, students will look at one of two sister cities that are in the process of change. Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester, Massachusetts were once connected physically by the Blackstone Canal and complemented each other in their economic roles. Each developed into distinct and successful cities with strong identities and lie within a 50-mile radius of Boston. Like most American cities, however, the economic shift away from manufacturing and the demographic shift to the suburbs took its toll in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, both cities are struggling for position and a way to recreate a positive identity that will drive a new economy and cycle of investment. They remain tied as the second largest cities in New England after Boston.In both cities, warehouse districts are languishing on the edge of the downtown. Students will be expected to develop an identity and a strategy for the 100-acre Promenade District in Providence or the 100-acre Canal District in Worcester. The role of these districts must be considered in light of downtown\’s success and should contribute to the overall agenda of the city for its future. Interaction with the city staff and stakeholders will assist the students in understanding key issues.MethodologyThrough this studio, students will learn the importance of the following elements of the planning practice: – Theoretical underpinnings – The need to have a theoretical grounding for your actions, which grows out of the professional literature, history, and research, but evolves into a personal approach to the work – Fundamentals – Knowledge of the tools of the trade: the basic building blocks of development and urban form – Critical observation – Moving beyond theory, training in how to look at the city today, evaluate what is there, and develop a point of view as to what works and what doesn\’t – Expression – Development of a language to communicate ideas, tell a coherent story, and synthesize information clearly using a combination of diagrams, plans, narrative, and charts – Strategic thinking – Understanding of the trade-offs involved with any decision, and who and what is affected. Practice in developing a persuasive case and negoti