City Literacy: What Makes a Great City

Summer 2021
Summer 2020
Sabir Khan
ARCH 3135

If you have wondered why American cities today are simultaneously sites of hyper-investment (New York) and radical disinvestment (Detroit); why European cities privilege public spaces and life lived in public spaces (Barcelona); why Asian cities (Hong Kong) appear to have addressed the Coronavirus public health emergency better than others . . . Three basic questions provide the framework for this course: What makes a great city – its physical form or the life it affords its inhabitants? How do cities come to be – how do they start? How do they develop? Who is the city for – for the rich and powerful or for every inhabitant? Each question emphasizes a particular way of understanding cities: Perception and Experience: why do we, as individuals, citizens, and visitors, prefer one city over another; what makes city life in one city better over another? History and Theory: how are cities conceived, planned, constructed and practiced? Ethics: whose expertise, perceptions, and experiences matter; how are decisions made? A fourth question raises the stakes: What do the escalating crises – economic (2008; 2020), environmental (Katrina, Flint), infrastructural (public health systems and Covid-19) – reveal about the present and future of cities, especially American cities? Barcelona provides rich material to explore all four questions. The lectures will cover, among other topics: Morphological transformation of Barcelona and its surroundings; Relationship between its physical form and its social fabric; Initiatives taken by Barcelona City Hall addressing Climate Action, Climate Emergency, Social Cohesion; Alternate models for politics, governance, and the relationship between Neighborhoods, the City, the Metropolitan Region, and the State Class discussions will draw upon the lectures, short readings, and the students’ experiences and knowledge of cities in Asia, Latin America, Africa, as well as the United States. 

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