Urban Studies Program

Director: Leonard Nevarez (Sociology); Steering Committee: Nicholas Adams (Art), Pinar Batur (Sociology), Lisa Brawley (Urban Studies), Heesok Chang (English), Brian Godfrey (Geography), Timothy Koechlin (International Studies), Erin McCloskey (Education), Thomas Porcello (Anthropology), Tyrone Simpson (English); Participating Faculty: Nicholas Adams (Art), Tobias Armborst (Art), Collette Cann (Education), Miriam Cohen (History), Lisa Gail Collins (Art), Tracey Holland (Education), Peter Leonard (Field Work), Lydia Murdoch (History)

The Urban Studies Program is designed as a multidisciplinary concentration in the study of cities and urbanization. Students examine the development of cities and their surrounding regions; the role of cities in the history of civilization; the social problems of urban life; the design of the built environment; and past and present efforts at planning for the future of urban societies. There are four major purposes of the program: (1) to introduce students to a temporal range and spatial variety of urban experience and phenomena; (2) to equip students with methodological tools to enable them to investigate and analyze urban issues; (3) to engage students experientially in a facet of the urban experience; and (4) to develop within the student a deeper grasp of these issues through advanced study within at least two disciplinary approaches.

Requirements for Concentration:

1) 14 units, including Introduction to Urban Studies (100), one unit of Urban Theory and the Senior Seminar.

2) One unit of Research Methods appropriate to the student’s concentration in Urban Studies, chosen from Anthropology 245, Art 102-103, Art 188/276/375, Economics 209, Geography 220, Geography 222, Mathematics 141, Political Science 207, or Psychology 200, or Sociology 254.

3) Disciplinary Cluster. Four units at the 200-level, with 2 units taken from two separate disciplinary areas related to Urban Studies, i.e., Architecture, Art, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, Sociology, etc., including other Multi-disciplinaries. In addition, two units at the 300-level, from two separate disciplines, reflecting the intellectual path set by the 200-level courses.

4) Urban Studies Cluster. Two units at the 200-level, originating in Urban Studies or cross-listed with Urban Studies.

5) One unit of fieldwork.

6) Senior Thesis. One unit, two-semester length requirement, to be considered for honors in Urban Studies. Majors will have the option of taking one additional 300 level course, instead of the Senior thesis, in the disciplinary concentration or in Urban Studies.

Recommendations for the Major:

1) Foreign Language. Competency through the third year college level, as demonstrated by completion of the relevant courses or examination.

2) Structured Study Away Experience. This is especially recommended for those who are interested in architecture and/or global, historical and comparative issues, and area studies.

3) Outside of Major Course work. This includes Introduction to Macroeconomics and Introduction to Microeconomics, study of aesthetics, ethics and social and political philosophy, and study of theories of confrontation and liberation, concentrating on class movements, critical race theory, anti-racism, feminist theory, queer theory and environmental theory.

Requirements for Correlate Sequence: Six units including Urban Studies 100, which should be taken no later than the Junior year, one unit of Urban Studies 200, two 200-level courses, reflecting the concentration of the student in the Urban Studies correlate, two 300-level courses in accordance with the intellectual path set by the 200-level work. No more than two transfer units may be credited towards the sequence. No more than one unit may overlap with the major.

After declaration of the major or correlate sequence, no NRO work will be permissible or applicable to the major.

Course Offerings

100a and b. Introduction to Urban Studies(1)

This course is an introduction to the debates on historical alteration of urban space and its cross cultural expressions. By concentrating on urban contradictions, topics include formation and perpetuation of hierarchy in space, and its political, economic social and cultural manifestations and contesting movements. The specific requirements of the course entail study of the debates, including their methodology, with an emphasis on the connection between theory and research. The course is coordinated by one faculty member in cooperation with the Urban Studies Program faculty. Mr. Koechlin, Ms. Brawley.

200b. and b. Urban Theory(1)

This course reviews the development of theories regarding human behavior in cities and the production of space. The course spans the twentieth century, from the industrial city to the themed spaces of contemporary cities. Literature and topics examined to include the German school, urban ecology, debates in planning and architecture, political economy, and the cultural turns in urban studies. Mr. Simpson.

Prerequisite: Urban Studies 100.

[ 213. Urban Planning and Practice ](1)

An introduction to planning and practice. Course examines successful and unsuccessful cases of urban and regional planning events, compares and evaluates current growth management techniques, and explores a wide variety of planning methods and standards. Topics include citizen participation, goal setting, state and local land use management approaches, environmental protection measures, affordable housing strategies, transportation, and urban design.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 218. Urban Economics ](1)

(Same as Economics 218) The department.

Prerequisite: Economics 101.

Not offered in 2009/10.

222a. Urban Political Economy(1)

(Same as International Studies 222a) This course employs the multidisciplinary lens of political economy to analyze economic development, social inequality, and political conflict in contemporary cities. Why do people and resources tend to concentrate in cities? How does the urban landscape promote and constrain political conflict and distribute economic and social rewards? How are local outcomes influenced by global political-economic forces? The course develops an analytical framework to make sense of a variety of urban complexities, including poverty, segregation, suburban sprawl, the provision of affordable housing, global migration, and the effects of neoliberalism on rich and poor cities throughout the world. Mr. Koechlin.

[ 245. Ethnographer's Craft ](1)

(Same as Anthropology 245) Ms. Varghese.

Not offered in 2009/10.

249 The Politics of City, Suburb, and Neighborhood(1)

(Same as Urban Studies 249) An examination of the development, organization, and practice of the varied forms of politics in metropolitan areas. Main themes include struggles between machine and reform politicians in cities; fiscal politics and urban pre-occupations with economic growth, racial and class politics; changes in federal urban policies; neighborhood politics and alternative forms of community organization; suburban politics and race/class Mr. Plotkin.

250b. Urban Geography(1)

(Same as Geography 250) Mr. Godfrey.

252b. Race, Representation and Resistance(1)

(Same as Education 252b and Sociology 252b) Ms. Cann.

254a. Victorian Britain(1)

(Same as History 254) Ms. Murdoch.

[ 258b. Sustainable Landscapes: Bridging Place and Environment ](1)

(Same as Geography 258) Geographers have long understood the relationship of aesthetic landscapes and place to include concepts of identity, control, and territory. Increasingly we consider landscape aesthetics to involve environmental quality as well. How do these contrasting sets of priorities meet in the process of landscape design and analysis? In this course we begin by examining regional and local histories of landscape design and their relationship to concepts of place, territory, and identity. We then consider landscape ecological approaches to marrying aesthetic and environmental priorities in landscapes. We investigate local issues such as watershed quality, native plantings, and runoff management in order to consider creative ways to bridge these once-contrary approaches to understanding the landscapes we occupy. We focus on projects on topics related to the ongoing Vassar campus landscape study. Ms. Cunningham.

Not offered in 2009/10.

261b. Native American Urban Experience(1)

(Same as American Culture 261) Over half of all Native American people living in the United States now live in an urban area. The United States federal policies of the 1950's brought thousands of Indigenous peoples to cities with the promise of jobs and a better life. Like so many compacts made between the United States and Native tribes, these agreements were rarely realized. Despite the cultural, political, and spiritual losses due to Termination and Relocation policies, Native American people have continued to survive and thrive in complex ways. This course examines the experiences of Indigenous peoples living in urban areas since the 1950's. In particular, we look at the pan-tribal movement, AIM, Red Power, education, powwowing, social and cultural centers, two-spiritedness, religious movements, and the arts. We also study the manner in which different Native urban communities have both adopted western ways and recuperated specific cultural and spiritual traditions in order to build and nurture Native continuance. Ms. McGlennen.

[ 276b. Gender and Social Space ](1)

(Same as Women Studies 276) This course explores the ways in which gender informs the spatial organization of daily life; the interrelation of gender and key spatial forms and practices such as the home, the city, the hotel, migration, shopping, community activism, and walking at night. It draws on feminist theoretical work from diverse fields such as geography, architecture, anthropology and urban studies not only to begin to map the gendered divisions of the social world but also to understand gender itself as a spatial practice. Ms. Brawley.

Not offered in 2009/10.

[ 277b. The Making of the "American Century," 1890 - 1945 ](1)

(Same as History 277) Ms. Cohen.

Not offered in 2009/10.

286b. Making Cities(1)

This course surveys the production of urban space, from the mid-nineteenth century industrial city to today's post-bubble metropolis. Theories of urban planning and design, landscape architecture, infrastructure and real estate development are discussed in the context of a broad range of social, cultural, political and economic forces that have shaped urban space. Looking at American and European case studies, we ask: Who made decisions on the production of urban space? How were urban interventions actually brought about? Who were the winners and losers? Mr. Armborst.

290a or b. Field Work(1/2 or 1)

Individual projects through field work office, under supervision of one of the participating instructors. May be elected during the college year or during the summer. Special permission. Unscheduled.

300a. and 301b. Senior Thesis(1)

A thesis written in two semesters for one unit. The Program.

340a. Advanced Urban and Regional Studies(1)

(Same as Geography 340a)

Topic for 2009/10: Urban Political Ecology: Environmental History, Conservation, and Planning in Global Cities. In our increasingly urban world, understanding and managing the diverse connections among cities and their extended geophysical and human environments have become urgent tasks. This seminar examines issues of environmental history, conservation, and planning in global mega-cities—sprawling metropolitan areas exceeding ten million inhabitants—through the theoretical lens of urban political ecology. We focus on how political institutions have mediated the interactions of humans and nature in urban settings around the world. Topics for study include the intellectual history of urban sustainability, methods of environmental history, issues of urban design and metabolism, contemporary efforts to conserve urban environments, participatory citizenship and environmental justice, and prospects for livable cities. Students carry out research on a global mega-city of their choice. Mr. Godfrey.

[ 345b. African American Migrations: Movement, Creativity, Struggle, and Change ](1)

(Same as Africana Studies 345) Ms. Collins.

Not offered in 2009/10.

350a. New York City as a Social Laboratory(1)

In a classic essay on urban studies, sociologist Robert Park once called the city "a laboratory or clinic in which human nature and social processes may be conveniently and profitably studied." The scale, dynamism, and complexity of New York City make it a social laboratory without equal. This seminar provides a multidisciplinary inquiry into New York City as a case study in selected urban issues. Classroom meetings are combined with the field-based investigations that are a hallmark of Urban Studies. Site visits in New York City allow meetings with scholars, officials, developers, community leaders and others actively involved in urban affairs. Topics for the seminar may change from year to year, in which case the course may be repeated for credit. Mr. Armborst, Ms. Brawley.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

352b. The City in Fragments(1)

(Same as Media Studies 352b) In this seminar, we use the concept of the fragment to explore the contemporary city, and vice versa. We draw on the work of Walter Benjamin, for whom the fragment was both a central symptom of urban modernity and a potentially radical mode of inquiry. We also use the figure of the fragment to explore and to experiment with the situationist urbanism of Guy Debord, to address the failure of modernist dreams for the city, and to reframe the question of the "global" in contemporary discussions of global urbanization. Finally, we use the fragment to destabilize notions of experience and evidence—so central to positivist understandings of the city—as we make regular visits to discover, as it were, non-monumental New York. Readings include works by Walter Benjamin, Stefano Boeri, Christine Boyer, Guy Debord, Rosalyb Deytsche, Paul Gilroy, Rem Koolhaas, Henri Lefebvre, Thomas Lacquer, Saskia Sassen, Mark Wigley, and others. Ms. Brawley, Mr. Chang.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

[ 367b. Urban Education Reform ](1)

(Same as Education 367)

Not offered in 2009/10.

370a. Seminar in Architectural History(1)

(Same as Art 370)

Topic for 2009/10: Rome of the Imagination. No city has had a greater influence on the architectural imagination than Rome. Throughout western history the standard for architecture has been measured by Rome. In this seminar we investigate the continuing hold and varied architectural interpretations of Rome and Romanness: the built Rome, the ruined Rome, and the imagined Rome. How has Rome changed its significance for architects over time? Among the architects we consider Andrea Palladio, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, E.L. Boullée, Giuseppe Terragni, Albert Speer, Gunnar Asplund, Louis Kahn and others. We may also consider those such as John Ruskin who reject Rome and consider how they manage to do. Mr. Adams.

372a. and b. Topics in Human Geography(1)

Topic for 2009a: Lines, Fences, and Walls: The Partitioning of the Global Landscape. (Same as Geography 372a and  Latin American and Latino/a Studies 372a.) This course examines the making of the spatial boundaries that divide and connect people and places across the Earth's surface. In doing so, it considers the origins and evolution of various types of divides-from private property lines that have marked the demise of commons throughout the world, to the barbed wire fences used to contain people and animals, and the international boundary walls and barriers that increasingly scar the global landscape-and considers various effects of and responses to these phenomena. Mr. Nevins.

Topic for 2010b: Preserving Whose City? Memory, Heritage, And Planning In Global Cities. (Same as Geography 372b and Latin American and Latino/a Studies 372b) Urban memory and heritage are increasingly important sources of cultural identity, tourist development, and political symbolism in our globalized world. How we define ourselves depends in large part on how we treat the legacies of the past, which serve to anchor our collective memories in particular cultural landscapes. This seminar focuses on the rise of historical preservation and the impacts of heritage programs on the built forms and public spaces of global cities. After examining the theory and practice of heritage conservation with reference to case studies of historic cities, students carry out research in sites of their own choosing. Mr. Godfrey

One three-hour period.

373a. Adolescent Literacy(1)

(Same as Education 373) This course combines research, theory and practice in the context of an urban middle school. Concurrently with tutoring a student, we engage in case study research about the literacy's our students accept and resist in the various disciplines. We define literacy broadly and look at how school literacy compares and contrasts to the literacy's valued and in use in contexts outside of school. We explore how literacy learning is constructed through methods and curriculum with a special emphasis on the diversities at play in middle and high school classrooms. Conceptual understandings of knowledge, strategies that support attaining that knowledge and the role of motivation in learning are emphasized. Ms. Holland.

380a. Poughkeepsie Institute(1)

This course is limited to five Vassar students working in a cooperative study with students and faculty from The Culinary Institute of America, Dutchess Community College, Marist College, New Paltz, and Vassar College. The class meets on Wednesday evenings from 4:00 to 7:00 PM at the Children's Media Project, on Academy Street in Poughkeepsie. The topics for the Institute may change from year to year in which case the course may be repeated for credit.

Topic for 2009/10: Community in Poughkeepsie. At a time when there is a perception that community is diminishing, or at least changing, both locally and nationally, the Poughkeepsie Institute offers a course that documents ways in which people in Poughkeepsie form social configurations. We examine schools, religious congregations, political issues, human service needs, sports and even restaurants, street life and parks. There is also an effort to uncover connections among these various forms of social energy. We issue a report back to the community in the form of 40-page written document and a 12-15 minute video that includes policy recommendations. This is presented at an end of the semester press conference as well as a presentation to the Mayor and City Council of Poughkeepsie. Mr. Leonard.

Special Permission.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

Limited to five students per college.

386a. Senior Seminar(1)

This course concentrates on advanced debates in Urban Studies and is designed to encourage students to produce research/grant proposals for projects in Urban Studies. Topics vary according to instructor. This seminar is required of all Urban Studies majors.

Topic for 2009/10: Cities After Society. This seminar investigates the emerging dynamics of urbanization and urban life amidst the structured disintegration of society at two levels. From above, globalization has weakened the economic integrity and political capacity of the nation-state. From below, class, bureaucracy, the nuclear family and other modern institutions have lost much of their power to reproduce social structure, unleashing new social risks and freedoms in a dynamic known as individualization. As theorists attempt to understand these changes and their consequences for cities, a new kind of social science has begun to develop, unburdened by increasingly problematic assumptions of the modern nation-state framework and the spatial fixity of groups, institutions and cultures within a bounded ‘society.' Mr. Nevarez.

Prerequisite: Special permission.

[ 390b. Mapping the Middle Landscape: Planned Community ](1)

Today a majority of Americans lives, works and shops in what Peter Rowe called "the middle landscape," the suburban and exurban area between city and countryside. This seminar investigates one of the middle landscape's most peculiar spatial products, namely the master planned community. The investigation focuses on the physical environment as well as the general attitudes, fears and economic forces that shaped it. Mr. Armborst.

Not offered in 2009/10.

Independent Work

298a or b. Independent Work(1/2 or 1)

Individual project of reading or research, under supervision of one of the participating instructors.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work(1/2 or 1)

Independent project of reading or research under supervision of one of the participating instructors.