Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


11.301J Introduction to Urban Design and Development


How does urban design get done, and what is the role of democratically-elected local government in this process? While there has been a lot of attention paid recently to American and European urban designers crafting spectacular projects in the autocratic regions of the world (e.g. China, Dubai, Abu Dhabi), we will focus on the majority of the democratic world's struggles with the public policy and implementation of urban design at the local level. The seminar is designed to be a collective and interactive inquiry into critical questions:

  • How does government influence urban design, and why?
  • How should governments shape cities in a representative democracy and be a steward of the public interest?
  • What have been the outcomes of urban design policy in the past, and how do they interact with the interests of private developers and community groups?
  • Where does the power of shaping cities actually reside?
  • What is the range of the local government tools for urban design and what are their consequences?
  • What is the effectiveness of policy tools for designing specific districts of a city, such as theater districts or residential neighborhoods?
  • How have policy tools been deployed by local government to design the transformation a city?
  • What is at the cutting edge of urban design, public policy, and implementation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this cutting edge work?
  • What are some future possibilities for public policy and urban design?

In order to address these questions, the seminar is structured around a series of thematic investigations around specific readings, as described in the following section.


1 Introductions and overview of seminar
2 Overview of policy and urban design
3 Historical insights on public policy and urban design outcomes
4 Exercising local and regional power on the design of cities
5 Local government toolkits for urban design
6 Effectiveness of policy tools for district and neighborhood design
7 Deploying the urban design policy toolkit to transform a city
8 At the cutting edge of urban design policy and action: part I
9 At the cutting edge of urban design policy and action: part II
10 Future directions?
11 Review