College of Architecture and Urban Planning
University Of Michigan Fall 2020
Fridays 1:00 - 3:50 p.m.

Assignments 2020

last modified: December 4, 2020

Prof. Scott Campbell
(734) 763-2077
office hours (via google)

Three main tasks:

1. Read texts carefully and come to class ready to discuss and engage.
2. Sign up for 2-3 Presentations (and upload reading guides to the google site several days before the session's date).
3. Write three short essays.
4. Short presentation on the final day of class (see below)


The Details:

1. The Readings (see syllabus).


2. Short Presentations & Writing of a Critical "Reading Guide" (in groups of 2-3 students per session)

(a) Early in the semester: Form presentation groups for each week. (Ideally each week should have two volunteers; however, depending on class size, several sessions may have only one volunteer). Each student should select 2 or 3 sessions. Write your name on the next to the weeks you select on the google site. Please review the syllabus and identify several weeks of interest, and talk to classmates about forming teams for a particular week.

(b) By TUESDAY of your week: Write and upload a critical "reading guide" to the google site (viewable by the world).
(Suggested length: 8 - 12 paragraphs; graphics and links encouraged). The students in each group should write a single, integrated text. Be concise: do NOT simply summarize the readings, but instead provide insights, frameworks and distinctions that will be useful to your classmates as they read the texts. [This will require you to do your reading AHEAD of time, so plan accordingly.] You may include links to other sites where useful. Of course, do cite sources (and acknowledge use of quotes and ideas) where appropriate.

(c) Friday's Class: Start the class with a brief presentation (15-25 minutes) that illustrates the key themes, controversies, big questions of the week's readings. Creativity and engagement encouraged. [Note: this presentation may highlight elements from your emailed "reading guide," but your presentation should NOT simply be a retelling of your "reading guide." The classroom should have access to a digital projector.



3. Short Essays
Throughout the semester, students will write several short essays that will be closely linked to the readings. Use double-spaced pages, and include a bibliography.   Be concise, analytical, precise and reflective. Guidelines on correct citations.

  WEEK HANDED OUT DUE DATE suggested page length QUESTION
1 Sep 26 Oct 16 (new) 5 [question on foundational/classic texts]
2 Oct 19 Nov 25 (new) 5 [question on Harvey/Castells/Lefebvre]
3 Dec 4 Dec 17 (new) 5 [question on the final month's themes]


Essay One (Foundational Readings)
due: Friday, Oct 16 (end of day) [revised date]

Answer one of the following questions.  Where appropriate, cite course readings.   You are encouraged to examine connections and leitmotifs across the readings.  However, you need not analyze ALL readings from the first weeks of class.  Instead, you may find it useful to focus on several selected readings.

1. From Berlin to Chicago: We began by reading the German school, followed by the Chicago School. You might see continuities from the German School to the Chicago School. You might also see differences, reinterpretations, shifts in focus, or even no similarities at all. In your essay, select several representative essays from each school and contrast their respective views of cities and urbanization.  To focus your essay, select several aspects for comparison (examples include -- but are not limited to: the main questions posed, their underlying assumptions and biases, their emphasis on city-as-experience versus city-as-process, their methodological and theoretical approaches to the city, their units/scale of analysis, etc).   Note:  remember to interpret the concept of "school" loosely and not monolithically: there is, understandably, a range of approaches found within each school.

2. City Love / City Fear:  The authors' stances towards urbanism and city life express a wide range of perspectives: great promises and excitement of urban life, but also great dangers and despair.  Some express a nostalgia for the rural "world we have lost," while others reveal a modernist zeal for all things new and a hope that cities offer new possibilities for human development.  (Lewis Mumford seems to alternately express both hope and doom, and he is likely not the only one expressing deep ambivalence.)  In your essay, select several texts and explore the strands of pro- and anti-urbanism in the texts.  What are their reasons for their divergent views of city life?

3. Tracing urban planning's worldview back to urban sociology? A generation or several ago, it was common for students in US urban planning graduate programs to read texts from the Chicago School. Examine the influence of the Chicago school (and/or German school) on urban planning. Can you identify assumptions, biases, priorities or uses of terminology in urban planning that have a direct lineage back to these sociological writings on cities? For example, what might the connection be between the early mapping of social segmentation (e.g., the Burgess concentric zone model) and 20th century zoning practices? Or between social science models of urban expansion and succession and planning policies to address urban growth, redevelopment and gentrification? Overall, can you see links between tools of analysis and tools of implementation/design/planning? (Note: it is an open question of whether the Chicago and German schools actually had a strong influence on planning -- or if their influence is overstated. Perhaps urban planners, in search of an intellectual history and theoretical grounding for their young field, looked around and conveniently found the Chicago School. I encourage you to both search for connections between early urban sociology and the rise of urban planning and also critically question this direct lineage.)

4.  What is the difference between the urban and the rural/what is the essential characteristic of a city? Many of the authors in the first two sessions describe the dynamics and consequences of rapid urban growth, and the shift from rural to urban settlements. But do they provide a specific and useful definition of a city and of the "urban"? Is the difference between the rural and the urban a question of size, of density, of economic activity, of land use, of governance, of architecture, of social relations, of wealth, and/or something else? Do they see urbanization as an unending process (e.g., infinitely scalable) or one with limits and boundaries (either in population size, density or the physical expanse of the city)? Select several readings and compare each author's view on what constitutes the essential characteristics or dynamics of modern cities and urban life.


Essay Two
due: Wednesday, Nov 25 (11:59 pm) [revised date]

1. Why the Marxist Foundation for Several Urban Theorists? Several authors of course readings have employed or adapted Marxist analysis.  What do you make of this Marxist thread to many of these urban theory writings?  (And is the common thread an emphasis on the dynamics of accumulation? capital-labor conflicts? Hegelian dialectics? relationship to the means of production? an emphasis on systemic contradictions and crises? etc.) Discuss the analytical power and drawbacks that arise from using Marxist ideas to construct urban theory.  (Use one or more of the course authors as examples.) Also, if the popularity of asserting overtly Marxist-based political agendas has waned since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the transition of China away from traditional communism), how has the credibility and veracity of a Marxist-based urban theory changed?  (Optional: What are compelling non-Marxist theoretical foundations for progressive, emancipatory thinking? That is, what are the prospects of a systematic, rigorous theoretical critique of contemporary urbanism that are not rooted in Marx’s political economy?)

2. The Influence of Lefebvre: Henri Lefebvre (1901 – 1991) introduces a distinctive approach to understanding "space" (e.g., the production of space, rather than merely the interpretation or the imagination of space) that has influenced subsequent thinking in geography, urban sociology and related fields.    In your essay, examine the ways that the writings of other urban theorists (such as Manuel Castells or David Harvey or others) pick up on (or react to) Lefebvre's ideas. 

3. The Evolution of a Theorist: In reading the anthologies of both David Harvey (b. 1935) and Manuel Castells (b. 1942), one can follow the intellectual evolution of two urban theorists over several decades.  In your essay, examine the evolution in thinking in the writings of either Harvey and/or Castells.  Identify the fundamental continuities and transformations.  Where you note changes, do you interpret them as responses to the changing urban-economic world, as responses to changes in the scholarly world of theory, or as a more internal (biographical) evolution in thinking? [Note: if you focus on Castells, you will likely need to bring in additional readings. One useful anthology: Castells, M. (2002). The Castells Reader on cities and social theory: Blackwell.]

4.  Spatial Fix/Space of Flows: David Harvey introduces the idea of the "spatial fix."  Manuel Castells introduces the contrasting concepts of "the space of places" and "the space of flows."  Begin by concisely summarizing each of these two arguments.  Then explore the possible connections and overlaps between the two arguments.  Perhaps the two are wholly unrelated. But is there a way to integrate Castells' and Harvey's concepts? If so, how?

5. Aspatial or Spatial Fetish or something else? One observes two seemingly contrary arguments in the writings of Harvey and Castells (among other texts): the authors assert the importance of space in society (and criticize those who neglect the role of space in shaping political and economic processes). But the authors also push back against what they see as assigning too much independent agency to space. (Is this why some authors are dismissive of "urban studies" as a stand-alone field?) In your essay, select one or several authors and examine this tension. Does it represent a contradiction, a paradox, and/or the appropriate efforts to define the complex role of space in social theory?



Essay Three
due: Thursday Dec 17

Answer one of the following questions. Where appropriate, cite course readings (and other relevant readings).  see these citation guidelines.

1. Nature and Urban Theory
One theme of the December 4 readings is an argument for reconceptualizing the city-nature connection. Select several readings and compare the various ways to theorize the relationship between the built environment and the natural environment (e.g., conceptualizing nature and society as mutually exclusive; assuming that the urban can be understood without needing to bother with nature; instead arguing that urban theory is incomplete and biased if it ignores nature; the "city" and the "countryside" as essentially two labels on a single integrated system; as a parasitic or symbiotic relationship; nature as merely a social construction; cities as simply the latest iteration in the long evolutionary development process of life on Earth; etc.). What are implications (positive and negative) of these differing approaches?

2. The Local and the Global:
As with many dichotomies, the global-local framework provides an initially useful distinction but eventually may do as much to inhibit as to help us understand the relationship between globalization and local communities.  (And this dichotomy is related to a second: the "global city" versus "non-global city" distinction.) In your essay, compare how different class readings reiterate, problematize, reframe or reject the local-global and/or global/non-global couplings. Which approaches do you find most or least helpful in analyzing contemporary urbanization, and why?

3. Abstraction and Spatial Representation:

abstraction, n. 1. The act of withdrawing; withdrawal, separation or removal; in modern usage euphem. secret or dishonest removal; pilfering, purloining. ... 3. The act or process of separating in thought, of considering a thing independently of its associations; or a substance independently of its attributes; or an attribute or quality independently of the substance to which it belongs. 4. The result of abstracting: the idea of something which has no independent existence; a thing which exists only in idea; something visionary. 5. A state of withdrawal or seclusion from worldly things or things of sense. 6. The state of mental withdrawal; inattention to things present; absence of mind. 7. In the fine arts, the practice or state of freedom from representational qualities; a work of art with these characteristics. [OED]

Many of the course writings (e.g., Holston, Scott, Mitchell, Robinson, etc.) have addressed (either explicitly or implicitly) the process of abstraction in viewing, conceptualizing, representing, governing, regulating or designing urban (or regional or national) spaces. Referring to several course readings as examples, discuss the motivations, tools and consequences of abstraction in dealing with (urban) space. (Where appropriate, differentiate between such terms as "abstraction," "representation," "standardization," "modernism," etc.). Is our engagement with space (i.e., the regulation of space, the analysis of space, and the theorization about space) invariably a process of abstraction?

4. Is Urban Theory just about the City?
At times in this course we have loosely interchanged several terms:  urban, place, space, city, metropolis.  Yet these terms are not synonymous, especially in an era where the city (at least in its modern sense) may no longer be either the predominant – or perhaps even most important – form of spatial development. Has urban theory privileged the “city” (its residents, their lifestyles and experiences) and built theory upon traditional notions of early modern central cities, thereby neglecting a wider range of human settlement patterns (such as suburbs, rural areas, regions, peri-urban areas, border areas, and hybrid spaces not yet defined)?  What are the implications of discussing “urban theory” as opposed to a "theory of cities," a “theory of place” or a “theory of space?” 

5. Urban Theory in the Age of the Internet
We often speak of the socio-spatial dialectic (that society shapes cities, which turn around and shape society). We might also speak of a technological-spatial dialectic (that technology — including infrastructure, transportation modes and building technologies — shape our cities, and cities in turn shape technologies -- since cities are the innovation, production and consumption centers of technologies). We might take this relationship a step further and speculate that an era’s technology shapes the way we visualize, theorize and verbalize urbanization. (For example, a century ago, we turned to metaphors and models of mechanization, mass production, etc. to describe cities; now we turn to metaphors and models of computers, neural networks, etc.). For this essay, reflect on how our thinking about cities and urbanization is changing in this Internet era. Is there an emergent urban theory arising in response to all the talk of smart cities, urban informatics, cyborg urbanism, the “Internet of Things”, creating “a new operating system for cities,” ubiquitous computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, etc.?

6. The Geographic Imagination
 Urban theory is not exclusively or even primarily a home-grown product within the urban planning discipline. Planners, in search of theories for their field, widely read texts from sociology, architecture, political science, history, environmental studies, anthropology, law, economics, etc. Some planning theorists frequently turn to writings from geography (as seen in the reading list for this course). In these multidisciplinary conversations about urban theory, do you hear a distinctive voice coming from geographers? Do geographers conceptualize central terms of urban theory (e.g., space, place, territory, the city, the region, clustering, density, borders, distance, adjacency, urbanism, topography, time vs. space, dimensions of space, etc.) differently from other disciplines? Do geographers ask a distinctive set of questions (that are different from questions in planning, architecture, etc.)? To help focus your essay, you (optionally) might compare geography to one other discipline (such as urban planning, architecture, history or economics).


Friday, Dec 11Final Session slide and short presentation

This last session will provide an opportunity to reflect on your encounters with urban theory (its texts, ideas and authors) and to identify the key themes and debates of urban theory. Format is flexible: you can combine text, keywords, questions, illustrations, diagrams, cartoons, maps, poems, songs, timelines, etc. Be ready to discuss and compare each student's contribution. Creativity and insightfulness  welcomed. You might provide a conceptual map of urban theory. I welcome a range of approaches:  typologies of theories; critiques; a focus on the dominant ideas; a focus on silences and biases in conventional planning theory; a focus on the past, present and/or future of planning theory; the challenges of linking theory and practice; etc.

(a) a slide to be shared with the class on this shared google slide file. Consider various formats, including diagrams, maps, tables, illustrations, a numbered list. Use supplementary text where appropriate to elaborate specific ideas/points.  (Be careful not to delete or edit another student’s slide.  One strategy:  create a separate google slide file; edit and refine that slide; and then, when complete, insert that slide into this file.)  [Note:  if it is easier to use multiple slides, go ahead -- though one slide is fine.]

(b) a brief, 3-5 minute oral presentation that concisely highlights your central points. Note:  If you will not be able to join the class live with us, please still upload your slide and then add an audio narration to the slide.

For examples of past years, go to Canvas Module for final session. link