Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


CityScope is based on the symbiotic relationship between complexity in the world and human value systems. The city, as possibly the most complex anthropogenic construct, is both a direct manifestation of our organizational ambitions of enormous physical proportions and a host to all of our philosophical, social, political and economic drives. Cities require the gathering, storage and distribution of huge amounts of resources guided by the laws, customs, prejudices and peculiarities of our institutions and controlling agents. Both of these types of physical and nonphysical systems coexist, interact, interfere and continuously orbit around one another as cities expand, contract and evolve.

CityScope will take you through a series of phases, five in all, that will present New Orleans in all of its rich and tragic facets. We will use social and political science, engineering and technical tools, architectural design and other fields and methods to explore the complexity of the city to reveal and propose solutions for its many problems. Today, New Orleans is host to a toxic mix of some of the worst problems ever endured by an American city. Suffering from a natural, human, political and social tragedy, the city's future continues to float uneasily between possibility and sustained malaise. 'Solving' its problems may involve part inventive thinking, part advocacy and part engagement with the reality of a city allowed to sink deeper into a state unique to an American city - but not so uncommon in other parts of the world.

Successful results from CityScope will be highly dependent on your definition of success. In some very real ways, the struggle of New Orleans derives from competing visions for a future state of the city. The specter of a smaller city, in footprint, population and economy is a welcome change to some and a nightmare to others. Divergent views on the attributes of success for New Orleans may mean that a stalemate of action is the predominant condition for the near future. However, it is clear that this cannot go on forever. The murder rate is the highest in the nation with 18 murders in the city this year alone. At least 200,000 residents have not returned after evacuating to various parts of the U.S. Entire public housing projects have been closed for more than a year, effectively preventing their residents from returning. Many neighborhoods have barely begun to recover while others have been quick to organize and reconstruct. The near future is uncertain- while the long term is anyone's guess.

Organization and Grading

The five phases of the course will proceed as follows:

  1. Context, deriving a preliminary notion of the spatial, temporal, social and political framework of New Orleans
  2. Positions, formulating preliminary ideas of an attitude to address the problems of the city
  3. Site visit, experiencing the city itself and engaging with residents and others
  4. Design, synthesizing multi-beneficial strategies to move the city toward your vision of improvement, whether it includes the city, a neighborhood, or simply a street
  5. Final documentation and presentation of the proposal

While these five phases may, at first, seem to represent a linear process, the course is based on the interest to compel various proposals at various scales based on an array of knowledge, much of it self-acquired. For example, within the first three weeks, we will ask you to articulate strategies for comprehensively solving the ills of the city — something that the Federal and local governments have been unable to do. You will be taking this leap with limited familiarity of the city and its problems.

These five phases also define the major assignments of the class. These assignments will be composed of data gathering, analysis of various sorts, writing, mapping, designing, presentation, and documentation of various sorts. The assignments will be most carefully defined in terms of the questions to be addressed. Expectations will be variously detailed depending on the need to do so. Assignments 1 - 4 have been conceived as cumulative leading to Assignment 5 in which the student may assemble all previous work into one final, comprehensive proposal. Grades will be calculated as follows:

Assignments 1 - 4 40%
Assignment 5 20%
Individual participation 20%
Group work participation 20%
Total 100%

The assignments will include writing, presentations, debate, and other elements. In addition, you will be asked to maintain a written journal of your thoughts and observations. We will review, but not grade this journal. In class projects, software tutorials, discussions and other events will provide a great deal of subject matter for these journals.

Attendance is absolutely mandatory. Discussions and targeted presentations will form the heart of the class and determine the direction of exploration for you and the instructors alike. As a project-based course, we will introduce a number of tools that will allow you to explore the city in novel ways. This exploration and the path of the class as a whole will be dependent on your presence and participation.