Lecture Notes

Part 1. The Mediated City

Process and Form, Work and Place - Richard Sennett, University Professor of the Humanities, NYU and Centennial Professor of Sociology, LSE

Image Construction in Pre-Modern Cities - Julian Beinart, Professor of Architecture, MIT (PDF)

The idea of cities creating images to market themselves is almost automatically linked to modern ideas of competition and to the availability of print and electronic means. This implies that pre-modern cities did not need to differentiate themselves in order to attract outsiders, that they did not compete, and that there was no system of image dissemination. It seems to propose the essential differentness of cities over time, and to take a schismatic rather than a diachronic view of urban history. This contribution will argue against this position by examining city image construction and distribution in early medieval times. The emphasis will be on the pilgrimage network to holy shrines in three major religions, on situations where religion and commerce come together, and where the making of purposeful city images serves to magnetize outsiders as well as to boost internal regard.
2 Tales of Manhattan: Mapping the Urban Imagination Through Hollywood Film - Henry Jenkins, Professor of Literature, MIT, Director, Master’s Program in Comparative Media Studie (PDF) Emerging during an important phase of urbanization, the American cinema offered what Michel de Certeau would describe as “spatial stories” which help to explain both to city dwellers and those in the hinterland what it is like to live in the modern metropolis. Specifically, the essay will concentrate on the tension between the desire to construct a totalizing or panoramic account of the city and the desire to tell the particular experiences of an individual character. I will consider the ways that Ferdinand Tonnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Geiselschaft proves useful for thinking about the narrative principles which have structured Hollywood films drawn from a broad array of genres (comedy, the musical, film noir, science fiction, melodrama) and time periods (from the silent cinema to the present).
3 The City in Cyberspace: Representation of Community and Place - Tom Campanella, Anne Beamish, Doctoral Candidates, DUSP, MIT (PDF)

This paper, in two parts, explores representations of the city in cyberspace and new media culture. It is structured about a core paradox regarding the city and digital technology. That is, we have configured new media technology to function both as a mechanism of retreat from the city, as well as a device with which us to create sophisticated city-like constructs in the new cultural space of the Net.

The paper begins by demonstrating that new media technology has displaced many of the traditional functions of the city, enabling a wide range of urban activities to occur outside the limits of the city. The new ability to remotely engage the city and its “information bandwidth” is scrutinized in light of historic antiurbanism in America. That the city is a moral hazard, and the pastoral countryside life’s ideal setting, is one of our most durable national fables. By using images and evocations in advertisements, gaming environments, the writings of leading futurists, and cyberpunk fiction, it will be shown that distrust of the city is a theme adequately represented in new media culture.

At the same time, new media technology has provided a whole new cultural and social space (the cyberspace of the Net), in which we have created virtual simulacra of the built city. The paper contends that the creation of these digital spaces is not a new phenomenon but rather a continuation in our history of attempting to design and create new communities and worlds. What is new, however, is the medium - a non-spatial medium that surprisingly often incorporates spatial qualities, literally and metaphorically. It traces the evolution of “virtual communities” from simple, text-based MUDs and MOOs to the more sophisticated, 3D visual environments of Alphaworld and Planet9, and ends by examining how the city is represented in these digital worlds, as well as the success of these environments from an urban design perspective.

4 Ephemera, Temporary Urbanism, and Imaging - J. Mark Schuster, Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT (PDF) Ephemeral, time limited events have become an increasingly important element in the practice of city design and development. Whether or not these interventions are intended for their imaging capabilities, they are clearly understood in this way by local officials, citizens, and planners. Most major cities and many smaller ones have begun to consciously program their cities and their public spaces in an attempt to reinvigorate these places and to enhance the appreciation of their city by their own citizens as well as by the broader audience of individuals who might come to partake of these ephemeral events. This chapter takes a wide ranging look at these phenomena, examining both indigenous festivals which are particular to a certain place, and non place-based festivals. It will also consider other time-bound events and designations, such as the Olympic Games, and the Council of Europe’s Capitals of Culture Program. The broad array of examples is intended to establish the breadth of the phenomenon and the factors that contribute to “success” as measured in both economic and social terms.
5 Place-Marketing: Using Media to Promote Cities - Briavel Holcomb, Professor of Urban Studies and Community Health, Rutgers University(PDF) Increasingly, not only private developers but local governments and public-private partnerships employ marketing consultants and devise advertising and public relations campaigns to attract the investments, new residents and tourists needed for economic growth and urban redevelopment. What strategies do cities use to promote themselves? What media are used (e.g., print advertisements, videos, websites, PR packages, in-flight magazine articles) and what ideological and rhetorical devices are used to communicate these image-messages? What are the roles of culture and the arts, of trophy architecture and of professional sports in urban image building in the late twentieth century? What parts of the city and which populations are included? Where are the silences?
Part 2. Imaging Cities: Opportunities for Urban Designers
6 Negotiating Conflicting Images - Eugenie Birch, Professor of City Planning, University of Pennsylvania (PDF) The Imaging and Re-imaging of places is never without controversy. In most cases, there are multiple contending images about what places could or should be, and corresponding conflicts over who should be empowered to control the destiny of such places. The built environment often serves as the flashpoint and symbol for larger power struggles, with roots in class, race, and gender inequalities. Who are the principal players involved in contested images? What are the mechanisms for changing an urban image? Are these mechanisms themselves undergoing a change? Who benefits from changes in urban images, and what can urban designers and planners do to make it more likely that benefits will be widely shared? What roles do– or can– or should– urban designers and planners play in the re-imaging process?

Fabricating Heritage Narratives: Locale, Region, Nation - David Lowenthal, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University College, London

Designing Local and Regional Heritage Narratives - Dennis Frenchman, Professor of the Practice of Urban Design, MIT(PDF)

Every level in society experiences the need to instill or strengthen communal identity and participation, and this has engendered the ubiquitous creation of heritage narratives and designs. Such designs and narratives draw selectively from actual and fantasized pasts, reshaped to be made useful to the imagined future. This chapter discusses why such needs arise and what uses they serve, how particular themes come to be emphasized, and the benefits and burdens they entail at local, regional, and national levels. It stresses the conflicts often aroused by such theming, especially when it is seen to involve falsifying history or favoring some elements of the public to the disadvantage of others. Examples will range from public art and architecture to historic sites and theme parks in both urban and rural locales.

Throughout the United States and elsewhere, a wide variety of industrial landscapes have fallen into dis-use and disrepair. Which kinds of efforts to resuscitate them have been most successful, and on what terms? Can the construction of design-enhanced narratives give new value to economically obsolete places, transforming them into centers of heritage interpretation, historic preservation, and (it is hoped) economic development. How are media used to market design and consolidate desired place-narratives? How does one come to terms with the “Disneyfication” charge? How does one assess the merits of a “themed environment”?

8 Re-imaging the Rust Belt: The New Cleveland Campaign - Edward Hill, Cleveland State University, Patricia Burgess, Cleveland State University, Ruth Durack, Kent State University (PDF) The reputation of individual cities, and districts within them, often undergoes change, whether positive or negative. This chapter investigates the print media coverage of a series of mega-projects (“gorilla projects”) that have captured the attention of downtown development leaders in Cleveland. It pays special attention to the planning process that has evolved around these projects, and to the role played by the press. The paper will draw on text and visual images from a variety of newspapers, and will be grounded in interviews with key planners, developers, politicians and media personnel. It will focus on three downtown projects: Browns Stadium, the Waterfront development plan of 1997-1998, and the Lower Euclid Corridor Development plan of 1997. Several questions will be engaged: how much of urban image change has to do with urban design and development, and how much is it grounded in other kinds of efforts (such as public relations)? What is the role of flagship urban development projects in city-marketing? Are there new mechanisms for civic boosterism?
9 Architectural Mega-Projects in Asia: New City Images and New City Form - Larry Ford, Professor of Geography, San Diego State University (PDF) The trend toward a global economy has been characterized by both increasing levels of economic interdependence and cooperation and convergence in the creation of urban form. In both the popular media and professional publications, the image of the Asian city is no longer dominated by scenes of traditional landscapes and teeming lanes. International work by architects, developers, financiers, engineers, and others has meant that many Asian cities have largely been rebuilt in recent decades and now bristle with some of the tallest skyscrapers and most monumental shopping plazas in the world. The export of architectural services from North America and Europe to Asia has been an important dimension of both the global economy and the creation of new types of cities to house the expansion of the global economy into new regions. At least until the onset of the current economic crisis, Asian projects constituted a significant percentage of the total work of many American architectural firms. Within Asian cities, new types of urban form have appeared as skyscraper-filled “midtowns” have emerged to compete with traditional centers. This paper explores some of the pros and cons of global architectural interdedepency as well as some of the design and infrastructure problems involved in the creation of new “world cities” in Asia.
10 Rating Place-Ratings - John de Monchaux, Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, MIT (PDF) Place-rating is a burgeoning and diversifying phenomenon. Entrepreneur magazine rates cities according to whether they are “best for business.” Forbes will tell you which cities are “most improved.” And the original Places Rated Index has been joined by many others including a recent book which guides you to “the best alternative, eclectic, irreverent and visionary places.” How are places ‘rated’ and how does this rating impact the way they are imaged and perceived? How do these ratings measure up against other characterizations and images of a place or city; how relevant and useful do they seem to be? And to whom? And what might it take for a place’s rating to change?
11 Inner Cities and Outer Cities - Dolores Hayden, Professor of Architecture and American Studies, Yale University, Alex MacLean, architect/aerial photographer, Cambridge, MA (PDF) Americans lack sharp visual and verbal vocabularies to analyze the vast, urbanized cultural landscapes we currently call “suburban sprawl.” A voluminous but diffuse literature dealing with the American suburb often separates it from the city. This chapter will attempt to sharpen the definitions of suburbs, constructing a new historical typology of suburban development, illustrated with aerial photographs. It will also situate the development of “suburb” and “suburban sprawl” as concepts in the context of visual images and stereotypes derived from print media and television. Also, it will reflect on the value and perspective of aerial photography as a medium for description and analysis.
12 The Images of Commonplace Living in Modern City Regions - Judith Martin, Professor of Geography, University of Minnesota, Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Visiting Professor, MIT (PDF) In many cases, citizens of the fringe seem to have abandoned concern and collective responsibility for the well-being of the old core city. How do those who dwell in various neighborhoods in the city-region (inner city, old inner-ring suburbs, and new growing suburbs) construct region-oriented lives? How do media representations and urban design place-making efforts contribute to more powerful metropolitan imagery? To what extent is it desirable or possible to enhance the collective identity and shared purpose of metropolitan regions?
Part 3. Conclusions: New Directions for Designing the Mediated City
13 City-Imaging after Lynch - Sam Bass Warner, Jr. and Lawrence Vale (PDF) Nearly forty years after the publication of Kevin Lynch’s landmark volume, The Image of the City (1960), city design and development practitioners still grapple with ways to measure and nurture “good city form.” [1] Lynch’s early work emphasized the perceptual characteristics of the urban environment, stressing the ways that individuals mentally organize their own sensory experience of cities. Increasingly, however, city imaging is supplemented and constructed by exposure to visual media, rather than by direct sense experience of urban realms. In the “hyper-visual”[2] contemporary city, the whole question of city image and city imaging warrants renewed scrutiny. Lynch’s famous study deliberately de-emphasized the meanings that places hold for their inhabitants, yet this aspect remains central.[3] City images are not static, but subject to constant revision and manipulation by a variety of media-savvy individuals and institutions. In recent years, urban designers (and others) have used the idea of city image proactively– seeking innovative ways to alter perceptions of urban, suburban, and regional areas.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 1998