Urban Planning 269: Special Topics: BioCities: Urban Ecology and the Cultural Imagination

Quarter: Winter 2017
Instructor: U.K. Heise & J. Christensen

In 2008, humanity crossed a historical boundary: more than 50% of the global population now lives in cities, and future population growth will mostly occur or end up in urban areas. This means that humans' most important habitat now and for the future is the city, a historical shift that entails important ecological as well as social and cultural consequences. This course aims to introduce students to the study of the modern city as ecological habitat through materials from environmental history, ecocriticism, cultural geography, urban studies (including urban planning), and architecture. The seminar's major focus will be on narrative, the stories that have shaped different communities' understanding of the conflicts and convergences between nature and the city in the past, present and future. From the nineteenth to the late twentieth century, the rise of the "sanitary city" led to the exclusion of many kinds of nature from urban spaces that more recent forms of planning and architecture have sought to reintroduce, even as the networking of cities with regional and global ecologies has radically changed. Historical studies, journalism, novels, poems, films, computer games, planning documents, architectural blueprints, and a wide range of different maps tell a fascinating variety of stories about how cities do and should function as ecological systems and relate to surrounding environments. Factual, fictional, local, global, utopian, dystopian: urban stories in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries run the gamut from oral history to avantgarde novel and statistical graph. The seminar aims to train graduate students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines to identify and analyze the underlying narrative templates that shape this wide variety of storytelling modes and media, to understand and use them in their own research and design projects, and to create new story templates that engage with humanity's urban future. Narrative will function as the conceptual hub for the seminar, whose materials will include historical and geographical research, approaches from urban studies and political ecology, architectural and planning designs and proposals, as well as a range of creative works (poems, novels, films, and computer games). Students, who typically come from half a dozen different disciplines in this course, will be allowed considerable freedom to develop their own research questions and projects within this framework with the help of the instructors. To encourage dialogue between the different disciplines, they will be asked to form part of one collaborative project.