Urban Studies Program

Director: Leonard Nevarez (Sociology); Steering Committee: Nicholas Adams (Art), Pinar Batur (Sociology), Lisa Brawley (English), Heesok Chang (English), Brian Godfrey (Geography), Thomas Porcello (Anthropology), Christopher Roellke (Education), Tyrone Simpson (English); Participating Faculty:Roger Akeley (Town Planner), John Clarke (Town Planner), Lisa Gail Collins (Art), Peter Leonard (Field Work), Lydia Murdoch (History), Brian Ripel (Architect), Linta Varghese (Anthropology), Yu Zhou (Geography).

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 275/276, 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:

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

I. Core Courses

100b. 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. Nevarez.

200a. 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. Ms. Brawley.

Prerequisite: Urban Studies 100.

213a. 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. Mr. Clarke.

218a. Urban Economics (1)

(Same as Economics 218) The department.

Prerequisite: Economics 101.

[233a. Latino Identity Formation] (1)

(Same as Sociology 233 and Latin American and Latino/a Studies 233)

Not offered in 2007/08.

[237b. Community Development] (1)

(Same as Sociology 237) Mr. Nevarez.

Not offered in 2007/08.

[245a. Ethnographer’s Craft] (1)

(Same as Anthropology 245) The department.

Not offered in 2007/08.

250b. Urban Geography (1)

(Same as Geography 250) Mr. Godfrey.

260b. The Urban Plan (1)

This course is an introduction to the concepts of urban planning as seen through the examination of specific urban plans. Cities are studied both in time and space, in order to better understand both the evolution of urban form, and the multiple, often conflicting readings of the city. The first half of the semester examines “core cities,” the second half, “sprawl cities.” Each week focuses upon a single example as a case study. By looking at specific case studies, the seminar seeks to explore the full range of possibilities within the changing notion of the urban plan. Mr. Ripel.

261b. The Nuclear Cage: Environmental Theory and Nuclear Power (1)

(Same as Environmental Studies 261 and Sociology 261) The central aim of this course is to explore debates about the interaction between beings, including humans, animals, plants and the earth within the context of advanced capitalism by concentrating on the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of nuclear power. The first question concerning the class is how does Environmental Theory approach nuclear power and its impact on the environment. The second question deals with how this construction interacts with other forms of debate regarding nuclear power, especially concentrating on the relation between science, market, and the state in dealing with nature, and how citizens formulate and articulate their understanding of nuclear power through social movements. Ms. Batur.

262b. Architect as Tourist (1)

The “Architect as Tourist” examines the role of tourism in how architects and theorists have looked at the city. This examination provides a critical angle with which to approach the seminal architectural writings of the past century. The timeframe of the seminar spans from the eighteenth century grand tour to present, along the way touching upon the work of Le Corbusier, Aldo Van Eyck, Reyner Banham, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Aldo Rossi, Rem Koolhaas and others. Susan Fainstein’s Tourist City and Dean MacCannel’s The Tourist provide a framework for the class. The seminar explores both the value and the danger of the tourist gaze when disguised by professional credentials. As part of the course requirements, students make a trip to New York City to conduct research for their own manifesto on the city. Mr. Ripel.

[266b. The American City: Understanding Life in the Urban Maze] (1)

This course attempts to combat the profound disorientation that the American city causes its observers by offering a sustained exercise in urban cognitive mapping. Spatial theorist Henri Lefebvre advises that a tripartite anatomization of the city is necessary to diminish the extent to which the metropole may mystify those who confront it. He encourages students to understand how the city has been conceived, perceived, and lived. The course adheres to Lefebrve’s recommendations by first exploring the theory and mission that underwrote the city’s emergence. Students become familiar with what forces led to urban agglomerations and what plans enabled the birth of metropolitan spaces. Second, students review the writings of a broad range of interlocutors from whom the city motivated comment. Mr. Simpson.

Not offered in 2007/08.

[269b. Shades of the Urban] (1)

This course on the twentieth century urban American novel would richly contextualize works such as Call It Sleep (1934, Henry Roth), If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945, Chester Himes), and Bodega Dreams (2000, Ernesto Quinonez) to demonstrate the parallel phenomena (mass culture, exploited labor, social stigma, spatial and psychic claustrophobia) various working class ethnic communities have encountered while negotiating the challenges of urban life and assimilation into American society. Mr. Simpson.

Not offered in 2007/08.

[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.

Special permission.

Not offered in 2007/08.

[283b. The Multiple Modes of Black Urbanism] (1)

This course explores the black encounter with the American city. The class draws from a wide range of scholarship in the humanities. We look at historical examples in which cities have functioned in the political interests of Blacks, such as antebellum Boston and its radical abolitionism. We review the wide range of sociological scholarship-from W.E.B. DuBois to William Julius Wilson-that has cast the urban as a besieged chocolate space. We review the work of anthropologists such as John Jackson and Steven Gregory that account for black encounter with gentrification and urban change. The course culminates with a critical look at black cultural uses of the city, among them, graffiti, hip hop, sports, religion, and music. Mr. Simpson.

Not offered in 2007/08.

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 340)

Topic for 2007/08: Preserving Whose City? Heritage Sites, Historic Districts, and Public Space. This seminar examines urban heritage preservation as an increasingly important source of cultural identity, tourist development, and political symbolism in our globalized world. People generally agree that historic landmarks should be preserved for future generations, but conflicts occur when different classes, ethnic and racial groups, nationalities, and global interests lay claim to heritage sites. Controversies also arise as preserved historic districts gentrify and displace less affluent residents and merchants. For example, street vendors and others of the informal sector commonly face eviction as authorities renovate deteriorated heritage sites. We consider both the theory and the practice of how urban heritages emerge through complex interactions at local, regional, national, and global scales. After considering the cases of several historic cities, students carry our research in heritage sites of their own choosing. Mr. Godfrey.

One three-hour period.

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

(Same as Africana Studies 345) Ms. Collins.

Not offered in 2007/08.

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.

(Same as Environmental Studies 350) Topic for 2007/08: Greening New York. What is the future role of cities in the global environment? The goal of this class is to explore the major challenges in making cities environmentally sustainable. Efforts to generate and foster green and sustainable urban space confront economic, political and social complexities, while our imagination is being challenged to define alternatives. By focusing on New York City, we will explore alterations in the discourse on sustainability as it relates to spatial allocation in urban design, and architectural innovations in the form and function of green buildings. Through a combination of classroom based discussions and New York City on site investigations, the class will strive to understand an expanded definition of sustainability in the contemporary urban environment. Ms. Batur, Mr. Ripel.

Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

352b. The City in Fragments (1)

(Same as Media Studies 352) 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.

[365b. Gods of the City: Religion in America] (1)

(Same as Religion 365) Ms. Weisenfeld.

Not offered in 2007/08.

367b. Urban Education Reform (1)

(Same as Education 367)

Prerequisite: Education 235 or permission of instructor

One 2-hour period.

Education Staff.

370a. Seminar in Architectural History (1)

(Same as Art 370) Topic for 2007/08: Modern Architecture and Social Change. Many modern architects at the beginning of the twentieth century deliberately sought to lift the confining burdens of decorative convention associated with historical architecture. The grids of steel and glass were agents of change and progress. Years later, in the 1970s, at the time of the century’s next great shift of social direction, new laws began to protect historic architecture from the same “progress.” Now another thirty years on, the same preservation laws are being used to prevent the destruction or alteration of buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, the same buildings that once threatened “historical architecture.” What is going on? Using examples from the Vassar campus and selected sites in New York City, the course examines paradigmatic examples of preservation to see how this struggle of ideology and aesthetics is being played out and what it may mean for us today. The seminar explores a thesis about historic preservation: that is public value it not a record of the history of art or architecture but its protection of the confrontation with social history that old architecture forces on us. What, for example, do Vassar’s “trophy” modern buildings offer to help us think our way out of the crisis of today? Presentations and onsite investigation; experience in the documentation of historic buildings. The course is sponsored by the Getty Foundation heritage Grant program and is jointly taught by Nicholas Adams and Paul Yard, Director of the Historic Preservation Program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a principal of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects in New York. Mr. Adams, Mr. Byard.

372a. Topics in Human Geography (1)

(Same as Geography 372a) Topic for 2007/08: Ethnic Geography of America. Are today’s immigrants different from the previous generations? Is the assimilation model no longer workable or desirable? Do the locations of immigrants affect their social mobility? How does globalization affect contemporary immigrants? These are the questions this seminar addresses. The seminar is a multidisciplinary discussion of the changing theoretical discourses on studying ethnic groups in America from the perspectives of assimilationism to multiculturalism and transnationalism. We contrast the historical experiences of the European immigrants and the experiences of contemporary Hispanic and Asian populations in different areas of the U.S., particularly in New York and Los Angeles. The topics include immigrant social mobility, political organization, cultural assimilation, changes in gender relations, and transnational linkages. Ms. Zhou.

380b. 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 or 2007/08: An Urban Experiment. Human Services in Poughkeepsie. This course examines the human service systems as they respond to urban needs including hunger, homelessness, health, youth programming and developmental disability in Poughkeepsie. There is special emphasis on interagency collaboration and creative delivery of services. This study issues a collaboratively written 40-page report and a video of approximately 13 minutes, which is presented to the community at a press conference as well as in a political presentation to the Mayor and Common Council of Poughkeepsie. Mr. Leonard.

Special Permission.

Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

Limited to 5 students.

[381a. The Psychological Experience of Migration] (1)

(Same as Psychology 381) Ms. Lightbourn.

Not offered in 2007/08.

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 2007/08: Musical Urbanism. How is the urban experience represented aesthetically? How do cities sustain artistic milieus and cultural production? What is genuinely “local” about local culture? This seminar takes these questions up through the case of twentieth century popular music and related cultural expressions and media. We inquire into the complex and dynamic relationships between (cultural) urbanism and (spatial, economic, demographic) urbanization by examining the urban dimensions of popular music—its inspiration, production, transmission, consumption, and appreciation—as documented by social research, literary fiction, film, and sound recordings. Additionally, we investigate the complementarities and tensions of empirical, literary, and critical methods to knowing and representing the city. Mr. Nevarez, Mr. Chang.

Prerequisite: Special permission.

[388b. Prejudice, Racism, and Social Policy] (1)

(Same as Psychology 388 and Africana Studies 388) Prejudice and racism is one of the most enduring and widespread social problems facing the world today. This course tackles prejudice and racism from a social psychological perspective, and aims to give students an understanding of the theoretical causes, consequences, and ‘cures’ of this pervasive phenomenon. We review the empirical work on stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination and then explore real-world examples of these principles in action in the policy realm. In particular we examine historical and contemporary cases that relate to ideas about race and ethnicity in a national and global context. Topics covered may include affirmative action, segregation/desegregation, bilingual education, urban policy, US immigration policy, US foreign policy in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, etc. This course is intended to help upper-level students acquire the theoretical tools with which to analyze prejudice and racism research and the development of public policies. Ms. Lightbourn.

Not offered in 2007/08.

II. 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.