11.123 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate
Big Plans and Mega-Urban Landscapes


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 lectures / week, 1.5 hours / lecture


This class has no prerequisites.


This course explores the physical, ecological, technological, political, economic, and cultural implications of big plans and mega-urban landscapes in a global context. It uses local and international case studies to understand the process of making major changes to urban landscape and city fabric, and to regional landscape systems. It includes lectures by leading practitioners. The assignments consider planning and design strategies across multiple scales and time frames.

This course might be alternately titled “Re-thinking and Re-envisioning the Future of Cities: Technology, Ecology, Community, and Scale.” We will focus on projects both in the U. S. and globally that bring together the complex issues of present-day large-scale urban planning, particularly in the rather unique context we face today: Technological promise, extensive urbanization, and ecological crises. With such opportunities and challenges in mind, we will revisit the checkered history of large-scale urban planning, and interrogate our notions of scale, disciplinary boundaries, and the very nature of “urban-ness.” We then explore critical approaches to both rethinking and re-envisioning the future of urban spaces, looking at topics of landscape urbanism, digital urban systems and “smart cities,” urban governance in the age of global cities, social justice frameworks for the city, “worlding” planning (or, locally engaged and globally connected), “resilience,” and the increasingly relevant issue of post-disaster planning.

Throughout the semester, students will also be attempting to put these concepts into practice, exploring multiple ways of understanding the city of Boston, taking on decision-making and prioritizing within complex situations, and, ultimately, producing planning documents that reflect the students’ own engagement with large-scale urban environments.

Course Structure

This hybrid course will integrate lectures, readings and discussions, guest lectures, and student-led research with case studies and hands-on projects. We will set the stage for understanding big plans by exploring both present-day conditions and historical examples of large-scale urban plans. We will build on this introduction by examining new ways of understanding contemporary conditions, such as rethinking big planning, and new, forward thinking design ideas, such as re-envisioning alternate urban futures. Weekly sessions will typically be structured as follows: one session will consist of a short lecture introducing a topic followed by discussions of lecture material and readings; a second session will either consist of guest lectures, group discussion, skills workshops, or group project work time. Guest lecturers have been invited throughout the semester to share their expertise on specific big plan topics.


The class contains 3 assignments, described more thoroughly on the assignments page.

Responses to Readings and Guest Lecturers

Each student is required to write a short response (approx. 200–300 words) on each session’s readings and / or guest lecturer’s presentation, due on the day or readings or one week after each guest lecture.

Participation in Class

Participation is particularly important in this class, whether during discussions of readings, lecture topics, workshops, or group work sessions. Your participation grade will reflect this. Attendance is part of your participation grade as well. More than three sessions of unexcused absences, or excessive lateness, will be grounds for grade penalties.


Case Study Project 20%
Midterm Project 20%
Final Group Project (including individual essay) 40%
Participation 20%
Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
assignment Presentation Assignments
assignment Written Assignments