Check Out a Syllabus for an Urban Design Course That Somehow Doesn’t Exist Yet

By Sameer Rao Aug 06, 2015

The African-American Students Association at Harvard’s Graduate School of Urban Design has done some groundbreaking work in the past few years. They hosted a visit from design obsessive Kanye West in 2013. They hosted a race- and justice-focused conference a few months ago that encapsulated the gravity of the subsequent protests in cities across the country. But despite this work, they noted, in the afore-linked Al Jazeera America story on the conference, that their school still has no courses that link racial justice to urban design. 

Citylab writer (and former Colorlines reporting fellow) Brentin Mock noted this and, in consultation with various architects and designers, created a sample syllabus for such a class. We think the list of works is pretty rad, featuring notable liteature from throughout the history of critical studies: 

  • "There Goes the ‘Hood" by Lance Freeman, 2006
  • "Fair and Healthy Land Use: Environmental Justice and Planning" by Craig Anthony Arnold, 2007
  • "Aesthetics of Equity" by Craig Wilkins, 2007
  • "Structural Inequality: Black Architects in the United States" by Victoria Kaplan, 2006
  • "The Crisis of the African-American Architect: Conflicting Cultures of Architecture and (Black) Power" by Melvin Mitchell , 2002
  • "Urban Planning and the African-American Community" by June Manning Thomas, 1997
  • "Redevelopment and Race: Planning a Finer City in Postwar Detroit" by June Manning Thomas, 1997
  • "Planning Atlanta" by Harley F. Etienne and Barbara Faga, 2015  
  • "The Black Metropolis in the 21st Century: Race, Power, and the Politics of Place" edited by Robert Bullard, 2007
  • "Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity" edited by Robert Bullard, 2007
  • "Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World" edited by Julian Agyeman, Robert D. Bullard and Bob Evans, 2003
  • "Race, Poverty, and American Cities" by John Charles Boger, 1993
  • "Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City" by St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, 1962
  • Everything from David Harvey
  • "The Philadelphia Negro" by W.E.B. Dubois, 1896  

Mock also quotes Bryan Lee, the place and civic design director of the Arts Council of New Orleans and a notable profesional in the design field (he was named "Member of the Year" by the National Organization of Minority Architects in 2014), on the topic of why the field was reluctant to incorporate racial justice perspectives: 

“The issue is an ideology that finds its roots in architectural modernism, which eliminates ethnocultural and even sociocultural conditions from the variables that define quality architecture,” says Lee. “When we eliminate these essential considerations, we lose the ability for architecture to respond to the colloquial design languages of the people it serves.”

So…structural racism. 

What else would you include in this syllabus? 

 (H/t CitylabAl Jazeera America