Race, Power, and Resistance in the City

The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans, as well as the racial health disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, have made 2020 into a year that has renewed the urgency and broadened the awareness around racism and racial inequality—in the United States and across the world. The purpose of this seminar is to investigate race, power, and resistance at the intersection of architecture and urbanism and to understand the implications that these issues have for our own work as designers, historians, or critics. The course follows weekly themes, each of which will be explored through historical and contemporary case studies, readings, assignments and exercises, class discussions, and student research projects.  
 
If we think of #BlackLivesMatter as a protest movement, what does that tell us about our assumptions about the status quo of public discourse? Why do we generally accept the fact that some neighborhoods are, for example, white, Black, Jewish, or Chinese? The word ‘ghetto’ emerged as a descriptor for a neighborhood of a minority seen as outsiders; has its meaning changed? How do global events help shed new light and change perspectives on domestic inequities? The use of lethal force has come to be seen as an unsurprising component of police work; what does that tell us about our understanding of law enforcement, safety, and public space? Can design be inherently fair? What is expressed/erased when memorials are erected, and what is expressed/erased when they are taken down? And, most acutely, what is different in 2020 that has allowed for the public response to police brutality and racial injustice to take the form it has taken? 
 
The geographic focus of this seminar rests on the United States. However, the hierarchization of human identity based on race or other socially constructed categories, including, but not limited to, gender, ethnicity, national origin, political ideology, and religious beliefs is a global phenomenon. Therefore, students are encouraged to expand this focus. 
 
Learning Goals
Students will
• Develop historical and theoretical tools for assuming thoughtful positions on contemporary urban challenges and their roots
• Identify, analyze, and discuss constructions of race and expressions of power in urban environments
• Challenge conventional wisdom and established historical narratives by increasing awareness of omissions, exclusions, oppressions, and forms of resistance in dominant discourses about architecture and urbanism
• Expand disciplinary frameworks by cultivating an interdisciplinary approach to academic inquiry
• Exercise creativity in analyzing contemporary narratives that are subject to rapid change