A Sense of Place
1. The Experience of Place
Due Mon., Jan. 30
For the first post, write about your personal experience of a particular place — a room, house, a building, block, neighborhood, city, or region. The first couple of pages of Tony Hiss’s essay, “Experiencing Places,” from The New Yorker, provides a good model for one approach: describe the sounds, feelings, smells, etc., of walking through a particular place, followed by reflections about the experience. Yi-Fu Tuan’s article “Place: An Experiential Perspective,” suggests several other approaches that involve the different scales of “place” — from a bed, to home, to city and region. The suggested readings should inspire still other approaches, such as Lewis Mumford on his childhood in Manhattan, bell hooks on returning to her Kentucky home, Ian Frazier on his apartment building on Canal Street, Vivian Gornick on walking the streets of New York. Whatever your approach, make sure the post is filled with vivid descriptive details and focused on a personal experience of a particular place.
For further reading:
- Vivan Gornick – On the Street
- Lewis Mumford — A New York Adolescence
- Ian Frazier – “Canal Street” (part 1; part 2)
- Akikko Busch – Geography of Home
- bell hooks – Kentucky Is My Fate (from Belonging : A Culture of Place, in the ebrary here)
- Jennifer Cross – What is Sense of Place?
2. The Spirit of Place
Due Thurs., Feb. 2
“Every place is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there…The more living patterns there are in a place—a room, a building or a town—the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.” — Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building
“The spirit of place is a strange thing. Our mechanical age tries to override it. But it does not succeed. In the end the strange, sinister spirit of place, so diverse and adverse in differing places, will smash our mechanical oneness into smithereens, and all that we think the real thing will go off with a pop, and we shall be left staring. — D. H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia
For this post, you can choose between two approaches or a combination of them. (Be sure to do something different from what you did in the first post.) For starters, to get some ideas about the different meanings of “a sense of place,” read Edward Relph’s essay “Reflections on the Emergence, Aspects and Essence of Place,” which summarizes some of the various meanings of “place” in the academic literature.
One approach for the post would be to write about the “spirit of place” of a particular place — its unique character, its “genius loci.” It might be a place you hang out, a place you’ve visited on your travels, or the neighborhood you live in. A second approach would be to write about “spirit of place” and “sense of place” as they relate to a particular field of study. For example, how does “spirit of place” figure in to a literary work, a work of art, photography, music, film, gender studies, business, etc.? You might think about approaching the topic from the perspective of your concentration or major, or Google around a bit using key terms like “sense of place” along with the area you want to explore (music, film, sports, etc.) You can combine these two approaches by focusing on the spirit of a particular place that relates to a particular field of study. For more ideas, check out the Sense of Place News items on the sidebar. The suggested readings may give you some ideas for how to approach the assignment.
- Lucy Lippard – Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society [the arts]
- “Intertwined Through Time: Andy Goldsworthy and His Masterpieces” [environmental art]
- Lawrence Durrell – Landscape and Character [travel]
- Barry Lopez – A Literature of Place [literature]
- “The Terroirist” (NY Times book review) [wine]
- “No True Sense of History Without a Sense of Place,” (NY Times) [baseball stadiums]
- “The top tennis player in the world started here,” (NY Times) [tennis courts]
- Intersection (NY Times videos) [fashion and neighborhood]
- David Byrne, “How architecture helped music evolve” (Ted Talk) [music venues]
- Feng Shui (Wikipedia) [Chinese philosophy]
3. City Form and Orientation
Due Mon., Feb. 6
In his book Image of the City (1960), Kevin Lynch and a team of students studied how people orient themselves in their urban environment. They watched as people drew mental maps of the city, asked them to give directions to a destination, and prompted them to go an imaginary walk. The team analyzed the results in terms of five basic elements of urban form: path, edge, node, district, and landmark. This theme of orientation has also been explored in many other contexts, such as the neuroscience of the brain’s inner GPS.
For this post, write about something inspired by Lynch’s ideas about city form and the theme of orientation. You could interview someone about their image of the city, make a cognitive map and write about it (try to post an image of it), tell a story about getting lost and asking or giving directions (try to incorporate Lynch as you do this), or do some research into a relevant topic, like the dérive of psychogeography, or wayfinding, or the illness of topographical disorientation disorder, or mapping.
- Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City, chapters 1 and 4; chapter 3 (the book is in the ebrary here)
For further exploration:
- Reading cities: Why Kevin Lynch is still important
- Notes on Lynch’s Image of the City
- Mapping the City of Senses and Meanings by students of Kevin Lynch
- Daniel Montello and Corina Sas – “Human Factors of Wayfinding in Navigation”
- David Gibson – The Wayfinding Handbook
- “Lost and Found,” an episode of RadioLab
- “A Sense of Where You Are” — New York Times
- “Getting Lost: Understanding Human Navigation” — a page with many resources
- “Brain’s Positioning System Linked to Memory” — Quanta
4. The Social Life of Places
Due Thurs., Feb. 9
In his landmark study The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), William Whyte and his team observed people’s behavior in several plazas in New York City and then made recommendations about how to improve these places. For this post, focus on the social life of a particular place that you know from past experience or that you can go observe. Observe the place and how people act there. It doesn’t have to be a plaza, but it should be a public space, like the stoop in front of your building or the lounge at 1 Washington Place, where you can sit or stand and watch and observe how people behave. Try applying some of Whyte’s principles for what makes a good or bad public space.
- William H. Whyte – Design of Spaces (from City Reader, part 7, available in the ebrary)
- The Social Life of Small Urban Places: The documentary is here.
5. Visions of Utopia
Due Mon., Feb. 13
Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) presents a critique of urban planning and the utopian visions on which they’re based. Her vision of the city put her at odds with the “masterbuilder” of New York, Robert Moses, as well as Lewis Mumford, one of the most influential architecture critics of the day. Her book describes what Jacobs thinks makes a successful urban environment — safety (“eyes on the street), density, mixed use, buildings of various ages and conditions. For this post, write about one of the themes in Jacobs’ book or one of these additional readings related to Moses, Mumford, and Jacobs.
- Jane Jacobs – Death and Life of Great American Cities, Introduction (for further reading: chapter 2)
- Jane Jacobs – Downtown is for People
For further reading:
- Lewis Mumford – “Mother Jacobs Home Remedies” [part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4]
- Lewis Mumford – Prefabricated Blight
- Robert Moses – Letter to the editor, a reply to Mumford on StuyTown
6. Shock of the New
Due: Thurs., February 16
Write about “sense of place” as it relates to modern and postmodern architecture, e.g., the design of a particular building or an issue related to modernism (like historic preservation). You might do some research about a building, but don’t just summarize what you read online. Write about the experience of being in the building, the issue of human scale, etc. There’s lots to read about modern and postmodern architecture, but here are some places to start. The Kunstler chapter is an easy start, and the Jackson essay is entertaining. For a more in-depth and equally critical view, work through the Wolfe book.
- James Howard Kunstler, “Yesterday’s Tomorrow,” chapter 5 of The Geography of Nowhere (available on Google Books with a few pages missing)
- J. B. Jackson, “Living Outdoors with Mrs. Panther“
- Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House [part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4]
7. Sprawl and New Urbanism
Due: Mon., Feb. 20
The interest in place and placemaking is in some respects a response to the sense of placelessness associated with suburbia. For this post, write about the suburb where you grew up, some other suburb with which you’re familiar, some aspect of the suburbs as discussed in the readings, or one of the antidotes to sprawl like New Urbanism (a type of placemaking). Themes to consider include the problems of sprawl, specific suburban developments like Levittown, TV shows that feature suburban life, specific aspects of suburban life. You might try to locate the place of your suburb in the history of suburbia as outlined in Dolores Hayden’s Building Suburbia. You might also watch End of Suburbia, excerpts from the Lakeland videos, etc., or check out other online videos about the burbs. (If you discuss a video that’s available on You-tube, you can insert it into your post by changing the format from Standard to Video and pasting in the URL in the box at the end of the post. If you want to include a photo of your house, street, or suburb and don’t have one, try capturing an image from Google Street Views, but please convert it from the screen capture to a jpg.)
- James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere, chapter 1 and chapter 7. (If you’d like to read more, see the Google book and chapter 8.)
- New Urbanism (Wikipedia)
- Congress for New Urbanism
For further reading:
- Dolores Hayden – “Sitcom Suburbs” (from Building Suburbia)
- Anthony Flint – The Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America: Introduction and Chapter 1 (entire book available in the ebrary]
- J. D. Waldie, Holy Land, a selection
- Robert Shultz – “The Levittown Look” (from The Architecture of the Everyday, available in the ebrary]
8. The Vernacular Landscape
Due Thurs., Feb. 23
The vernacular landscape refers to the indigenous, local, common landscape, in contrast to the polite, political, and national or cosmopolitan. It’s the landscape that has evolved organically rather than being created by planners and architects (“architecture without architects”), that has been shaped by average people through their everyday activities rather than by experts and professionals, that reflects local building materials, traditional technologies, styles, customs, and culture rather than an international style. It is the world of common, ordinary, everyday places — the front lawn, the simple cottage, the strip mall, the garage, the farmer’s market. Write about an example of the vernacular landscape and how it reflects particular social attitudes and values. To get started, read the Wikipedia entry on “vernacular architecture” and these essays by J. B. Jackson, a landscape historian who wrote extensively about the history of the vernacular and its manifestations in contemporary America.
- J. B. Jackson — Places
- J. B. Jackson- The Vernacular Landscape is on the Move … again
- J. B. Jackson – A Pair of Ideal Landscapes
For further reading:
- J. B. Jackson- The Almost Perfect Town
- Helen Horowitz – J. B. Jackson and the Discovery of the American Landscape
- Paul Starrs – Jackson in the Realm of the Everyday
9. Placelessness and Non-Places
Due Mon., Feb. 27
“There’s no there there.” — Gertrude Stein about Oakland, California.
Many places seem to lack a “there” — they don’t have a unique character, or they’re just like everyplace else. One thinks of homogenous suburbs, airport terminals, shopping malls. Then there are the places that have been abandoned, like brownfields and sacrifice zones. Write about one of these “non-places” or “placeless places.” Describe it, explain why it’s “placeless,” and if you have any thoughts on the question, discuss what, if anything, could be done to make the place feel more like a “place.” As another approach, you might explore issues of placelessness associated with transitory housing, the global university, the modern nomad. To get started, read some of Edward Relph’s Place and Placelessness, and note the last couple of pages of the part 2 selection, where he summarizes his discussion and provides a helpful list of placeless places, which should give you all kinds of ideas for writing.
- Edward Relph – Place and Placelessness, part 1 and part 2
- Marc Auge – Prologue to Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (This is a difficult theoretical work, but the prologue is easy, the chapter “From Places to Non-Places” is most relevant, a brief summary of the book is here, a helpful discussion is here, and an interview with Auge is here)
- William Leach – “Educating for the Road: American Universities in a Global Age” (from Country of Exiles: The Destruction of Place in American Life
10. Placemaking, Place Fabrication, and Faux Places
Due Thurs., March 2
One of the legacies of the work of Kevin Lynch and William Whyte is the phenomenon of “placemaking” — the practice of improving public spaces so they are more responsive to the needs and desires of the people who inhabit them. The practice also has a darker side, too, as when development corporations exploit the desire for place to attract investment, tourists, and so on. The result is often a fabricated, faux, Disneyfied place.
For this post, write something about placemaking and/or place fabrication. You might focus on how a place has been changed in response to the placemaking principles (e.g., the sitting areas on Broadway in NYC), or you might create your own plan for improving a particular place. Another angle would be to engage with the debate over “authenticity” and “faux” places, as with the Disneyfication of Times Square. Here are some readings, videos, and websites to get you started. Take another look at this presentation for more ideas.
- Placemaking Videos
- Project for Public Spaces (PPS)
- Placemaking and the Future of Cities (PPS)
- A Guide to Neighborhood Placemaking in Chicago (PPS)
- Project Placemaking at MIT
- I.Y. Creative Placemaking
- Placemaking Chicago
- Talk by Jan Gehl
- Trailer for The Human Scale (watch movie here)
- Robert Sullivan — Times Square at 100 – Razzle-Dazzle Me
- Eric Rofes — Imperial New York: Destruction and Disneyfication under Emperor Giuliani
11. A Cosmopolitan Sense of Place
Due: Mon., March 6
Strong attachment to a place can turn into an exclusionary attitude – “this is my place so keep out.” It can lead to gated communities, private resorts, or much worse — forced displacement of entire populations from their home. Doreen Massey and Yi-Fu Tuan try to resolve some of the problems with a parochial sense of place by advocating a global, cosmopolitan sense of place. For this post, write about the readings and themes in the context of your personal experience.
- Dorreen Massey – A Global Sense of Place
- Yi-Fu Tuan – Cosmos and Hearth: Read this selection from Chapter 1 and Tuan’s essay about Cosmos and Hearth. (The conclusion of Cosmos and Hearth is here; and the entire book is available in the NYU ebrary.)
- Pico Iyer – Where is Home? – a Ted Talk
12. SOP 2.0
Due: Thurs., March 9
New technologies are transforming the way we think about, experience, and design places. For this post, write about something related to place in network culture. You might do some research into the connections between new technologies and the sense of place themes we’ve explored during the course. Consider topics like the networking of space, the spatiality of the network, sentient houses, responsive environments, the growing use of digital mapping, GPS, virtual places, web-based urban narratives, location-based services like Foursquare, hybrid spaces and the overlap between digital and physical place, locative media (digital media that uses portable devices and technology that is sensitive to the location of the user), digital placemaking, the influence of portable media on place, and so on. For background, read the article on “Place — The Networking of Public Space” before you get started.
More to look at:
- Meyrowitz, Joshua. “The Rise of Glocality: New Sense of Place and Identity in the Global Village”
- Mobile communication and new sense of places: a critique of spatialization in cyberculture — André Lemos
- Toward a More Social Sense of Place
- This Must Be The Place: The Importance of Place in Portable Digital Media, Shane Finan
- Changing Places – MIT Media Lab
- Community and a Sense of Place in Our Digital Lives (podcast)
- The Internet of Places — The Context of Things