Course Description

This workshop explores the potential of media technology and the Internet to enhance communication and transform city design and community development in inner-city neighborhoods. The class introduces a variety of methods for describing or representing a place and its residents, for simulating actions and changes, for presenting visions of the future, and for engaging multiple actors in the process of envisioning change and guiding action. Students will engage two neighborhoods, meet real people working on real projects, put theory into practice, and reflect on insights gained in the process. Our hope is that student work will contribute to new initiatives in both communities.

Within this context of media technology, a major theme will be the transfer of knowledge from a fifteen-year old university-community partnership in Philadelphia, the West Philadelphia Landscape Project (WPLP). This will entail both a re-presentation of knowledge to those currently living in or working in West Philadelphia and a presentation of lessons from WPLP relevant to other university-community partnerships, such as the recent partnership between MIT and Springfield. The integration of comprehensive, top-down approaches and grassroots, bottom-up approaches to urban design and planning is another major theme. A third theme is how different types of languages (e.g. professional and vernacular, verbal and visual, English and Spanish) facilitate and impede thinking and communicating about alternatives for city planning and design.


There are two sites for the course of the semester: the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia, PA and the Brightwood/Northend neighborhood of Springfield, MA. Mill Creek is a neighborhood whose population is African-American; Brightwood/Northend is predominantly Puerto-Rican. The population of each neighborhood is both low-income and middle-class. There will be a weekend field trip to each, one to Philadelphia in February and one to Springfield in March.


The City of Philadelphia recently received a Hope VI grant to redevelop Mill Creek Public Housing, originally designed by architect Louis Kahn, in a collaboration between the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Philadelphia Water Department, and the community. Many of the ideas underlying the City's proposal were developed by WPLP in collaboration with neighborhood residents and teachers and students in a local middle-school. How can the knowledge and visions produced by these earlier efforts serve as a resource for these new ventures and be effectively communicated to new actors, such as city officials and professional consultants they hire?

The Brightwood/Northend neighborhood of Springfield is embarking on an ambitious program of community planning and development, for which they have good support from city agencies. What can Springfield learn from the 15-year experience of WPLP, its successes and failures, and how can this knowledge be transferred?