Designing the American City: Civic Aspirations and Urban Form

The course is 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 an understanding of the cultural processes, policies, planning and design actions, which have influenced American urbanization.

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 generally 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.  Just being conceived, rather than as European cities needing to adapt (with considerable difficulty) to the cultural, political and technological transformations of the 17th through the 20th centuries, American cities heralded the arrival of the modern world. This is key to their appreciation.

The course also seeks comparisons and contrasts between periods of rapid American urbanization, and the even more rapid urban growth currently taking place in regions around the world.  As American cities grew in emulation off and in contrast to older European counterparts, so today many cities, particularly in rapidly urbanizing regions, seek inspiration from and attempt to improve upon the American urban experience.

This course is a lecture in the College’s Program in General Education, with a weekly graduate section for GSD. Enrollment is limited to 20 GSD students.

Offered as United States in the World 29 in FAS. Jointly Offered Course: FAS US-WORLD 29