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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Dennis M Ryan
URBDP 370
Seattle Campus

Reading the City

Comprehending cities as reflection of individual reader and social/cultural context. Skills for analyzing everyday, visible evidence of the city. Topics include self-identity with place, city, image and perception, visual design analysis; and place as representation of culture. Extensive writing, multiple texts, collaborative work in groups and fieldwork.

Class description

Introduction The city is a rich and complex text full of unpredictability and surprises. So infused with cultural symbols, it is constantly open for the conscious eyes and mind to explore its patent physical form or the meanings behind the grand facades and humble doorsteps. The city invites us to read, to describe, and to interpret; and very often, we see ourselves -- as individuals as well as the collective social life of community, society or humankind -- reflected in, and our values forged or transformed by the city. Reading the city is therefore a necessary practice so as to better understand ourselves, the urbanized environment and the people who share their everyday experiences in it. We draw from a variety of sources to enhance our senses and sensibility living or traveling in the city -- literature, film, music, paintings, photographs, urban design and planning, geography, history, anthropology, engineering, environmental management, and distinctive social theories and practices. Yet, above all, it is our continuous observation, interpretation and enthusiastic participation in the urban processes that enable us to identify with - understand - particular urban places. Which such composite effort, we shall come closer to comprehending the texture and the context of our text, and further engage ourselves in caring and sharing our urban community.

Reading the city does not specifically require trained expertise, but it does take a special social and spatial sensitivity to articulate what we observe and experience in the city. There are numerous ways of approaching the subject matter -- sometimes we need to posit ourselves in broader contexts such as a city's history and political-economy to see a clearer picture, yet we are also likely to rely directly on our intuitions to build genuine relationships with our immediate environment. And even though no single method is more valid than another, we must be fully aware of our own value systems while analyzing urban form, depicting urban phenomena, or telling stories about people in the city.

This course is intended to encourage students of diverse backgrounds not only to look at, survey, and interact with the city from various perspectives related to their interests and beliefs, but also to appreciate other approaches different from their own. We will learn from texts, readings, a great deal of fieldwork, small group exchanges, our own writings, visual materials, classroom discussions and more. Our most valuable resource is the city itself. Especially in the latest stage of urban evolution when cultural diversity, global economy of capital flow and grassroots movements incessantly reshape the structure and form of the city, our reading can be narrow-minded and farfetched if we fail to recognize the urban complexity and others concerns. Either narrative or critical writing is welcome in the exercises; personal accounts and clear expressions of feelings of being in the city are as legitimate as statistical data and visual analyses.

The aim? Enriching our urban experiences - from philosopher Henri Lefebvre - that encompass the full range of the perceived, the conceived, and the lived. It is hoped that, before the end of the course, students may reach beyond the level of seeing the city as merely an ensemble of great architecture and monuments and be capable of fathoming the meaning of daily drama of people-city interactions.

Student learning goals

1. practice in the discipline self-learning.

2. development of writing as a creative tool for thinking and seeing

3. capacity to engage the subject of “city as expression” from a number of standpoints

4. serious practice in collaborative, constructive learning

5. introduction to breadth of literature (including frameworks, values and vocabulary) associated with reading the city

6. a few analytical techniques for assessing place and meaning, and an appreciation of the context of urban design and planning- particularly the clash of the individual, collective and cultural realm.

General method of instruction

Student Collaborative Work. The format for Spring Quarter will follow a modified version of last year. The general pattern is outlined below. Expect some variation and reconstruction over the quarter.

1. A selected place as the vehicle to engage this thing called reading. A small, accessible territory/neighborhood within the greater Seattle Metropolitan area.

2. A small group of students, generally 3, with whom to "read:" to collaborate, construct, deconstruct, express, challenge, ... and finally to create and represent a common understanding with. Groups assigned by some magical method to try to achieve a diversity of interests, expertise, etc. and to avoid the phenomena of being "left out." There will be about 8 groups.

3. Building capacity working with others, prior to undertaking RTC's major journey this quarter. The Literary Home project, Training the Team, and the famous RTC Slice project

4. Four "domains" encountered in our reading journey: Home/Place-Philosophy, Emotion/Image, Visual Perception/Looking, and Cultural Studies/Human Geography. See Bibliography, organized to correspond to domains. The texts included will give you a hint as to how the domain is characterized. Each group /team will investigate its selected place from several very explicit viewpoints: emotional, analytical, cultural and imagined. Each investigation will result in a finished work. The works will be the basis for constructing #6 below.

5. Writing as the means (but not exclusive) means for both research/knowing and expressing. RTC is a writing experience. We will be using writing in a variety of ways: the pronoun "we" is a tip off here. We will be writing together as often as possible.

6. The Tour: the culmination of the group's deliberate and collective efforts, represented in 20 pages of highly professional work, imaginatively presented to the RTC class in the last two weeks of the quarter, to become part of the permanent collection of RTC. The Tours will be assessed by members of the class, as well as the faculty, for thoughtfulness and meditative qualities, stimulation, setting context, way finding, entry into cultural meanings, engagement with goodness and imagination. The terms "professional quality" will be carefully defined later in the quarter to account for some consistency, efficiency/frugality, and intentions.

Evaluation As noted above, collaborative learning is a primary objective in this design of the RTC course. Another is sustained, active, and varied engagement with reading the city. For those of you familiar with "studios" as a format for learning, this is going to be similar. And with that comes the issue of evaluation and all of the questions: where has each student begun and where they arrive, what did they seek and what did they accomplish? As a collective, the same questions pertain.

I organized this course specifically to build your capacity, piece by piece, in reading the city. As in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece alone has its own integrity but one must discover how this piece relates to others in order to constitute a whole. The assignments over the quarter are like these individual pieces. At times they may overwhelm, or confuse, or just plain irritate you in their separateness. And they will seem to fly at you, one right after another. Instructions may seem vague or too open-ended, particularly at first. However, it does seem to work for students who want it and who stay with it. I believe strong learning happens when learners truly engage and become their own teachers. I see my responsibility as one of providing a supportive and challenging environment for this to take place in, and for being a kind of field hand to cultivate this learning process. We will go through some initial projects to turn this learning process over to you. For some there will be uneasiness, at the beginning. Because the quarter is brief, and the course is “front-loaded”, I will constantly work to get the projects started in class. Cluster diagramming and word association games will be used to jump start thinking and acting – this may bug a few of you but practice suggests to me that if I don’t, students will procrastinate and less thinking/engaging with RTC will take place.

Recommended preparation

Reader for UDP 370 RTC: Purchase a copy of the "reader" for this class at the RAMS COPY CENTER 4144 University Way NE, 206 632-6630. This reader contains the assignments and copies of selected articles to support work on the assignments.

Class assignments and grading

Evaluation As noted above, collaborative learning is a primary objective in this design of the RTC course. Another is sustained, active, and varied engagement with reading the city. For those of you familiar with "studios" as a format for learning, this is going to be similar. And with that comes the issue of evaluation and all of the questions: where has each student begun and where they arrive, what did they seek and what did they accomplish? As a collective, the same questions pertain.

Relative Weights of the "work" in RTC for 100: 1. Reader and Homing project 4 2 Literary Home project 10 3. Training the Team projects (2) 6 4 Slice through the City project 8 5. Image Project (4 parts) 14 6. Looking/Analysis project (2 parts) 12 7. Cultural Meaning project (2 parts) 17 8. Team Summary comments 2 9. The Tour Individual tour design 2 Team Tour project 14 Tour Feedback (2 rqd) 5 10. Portfolio & Reflective Essay 6

Don’t take this class:

If you want to be lectured to twice a week for ten weeks by Professor Ryan or anyone else. 370 is about the active work of getting your hands and mind on the phenomena of city as an expressive text. To do this requires an attitude and commitment to making sense of place by putting yourself in that place and reflecting on this action through writing. If your work patterns are to put things off until the last minute and the very end of a quarter. The schedule of projects in 370 is deliberately fast-paced, one on top of another, to accentuate the important practice dimension of this course. The course design is basically reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading. or if you do not like to explore things that you are unfamiliar with. There is enough variety in this course to provide everyone with at least one new experience or way of seeing/thinking about the city .RTC works best if you can just jump in to this subject as a new explorer willing to try – and to invent – new ways for navigating the ideas and conditions of urbanity. or if you don’t want to struggle with a variety of authors and approaches to this subject. The whole point of this RTC is to appreciate the variety, the contrast, and the many lines into and through this subject. In fact, although the reading list appears extensive, it is in fact quite limited - just recent books in English. or if you do not wish to accept fair responsibility in working with others. Yes, “others.” Because the practice of reading requires exposition beyond one’s own little world. RTC is interpretation “of” others, and “with” others.

or if you don’t want to handle more than one task at a time. RTC gets chaotic in the multiple assignments and projects. Again, the design is deliberate – to illustrate the variety, the clashes, and sparks from different views and interpretations. or if you depreciate your own approach to learning. This one is a big deal; RTC requires the reader to bring her/his “ways” of sense making to the table and in the process to pick up some new ways as well. or if you cannot learn from others - your peers. Again, the learning environment for RTC is one of contrasts. Listing to others, comparing to self; exposition of self, response by others. Being “right” in doing this activity called reading is about being vigorously engaged and in dialog about it. or if you avoid self-reflection and critique - preferring the judgment of others to your own. The course is graded and the multiple assignments are all graded, but in the end the reader conducts the real measure of success: Where did I start and where am I now?

UDP 370 is not a class in the comfortable sit-and-be-entertained-and-then-be-graded sense. It is a quarter-long project, with others.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Dennis M Ryan
Date: 03/06/2012