In this case study I'm trying to find out how people can become more aware of their urban landscapes. To do this, I interviewed several students who took a class that helped them study a small urban area of their choice. This video is a sampling or "trailer" of the issues that came up.
Once and Future City
This case study is made up of interviews from people in the class
"The Once and Future City"
in the Architecture department and the Urban Studies and Planning department at MIT.
In this class, every student chose a small area, about 5 city blocks. Then they studied
the natural processes in that area using first person observations. They used some tools to help
them frame their observations -- a camera, a journal, and old maps are the main examples.
I wanted to discover how the process they went through changed the way they think.
New Ways of Perceiving
First I wanted to know if these students perceive things differently now that they've gone through the ~3-month process of systematically observing their 5-block urban area. If they do think differently, in what ways? I will try to capture this in the pieces of interviews I show you, but I only have interviews from after the process, not before.
Organization of this Case Study
So I'll start by interviewing a real insider, and then compare him to a "man on the street".
Then I'll show some examples of how these students are able to make spontaneous observations about the urban-nature surrounding them. I'm also interested in what it means to be native, and what the importance of "first person observation" is, so I'll be asking them about those topics. And, since naturalists have been teaching nature-awareness for a long time now, I interviewed some naturalists and got the students' reactions to the naturalists' passionate statements.
Seeing the Invisible
The reason I did this case study is because I'm studying how people can become urban explorers. The people in this study carried a camera as a tool, and I'm inspired by the camera for its ease of use and ability to frame the world in such a way as to share a certain perception with others. What is it that's wonderful about a camera? And, what is lacking in a camera for exploring the non-visual aspects of the urban landscape?
What is "The Once and Future City" class all about?
David Lee, a student in the class, answers this question in an email interview I conducted with him: "I think the most profound statement of the class and Anne (Whiston Spirn)'s book was that the city is not the 'anti-nature'; rather, natural processes pervade the urban environment and have a huge impact on our quality of life. I would add to that the reminder that human behavior and the way people walk through and use sites is natural as well. Our bodies respond to stimuli in instinctual ways that planners often ignore when designing public places. The job of urban designers is to create places that engage people in positive ways. It seems like you are approaching this from the opposite end: giving individuals the tools to experience any place more vividly. I think this sort of thing works best when a person has first become familiar with a place on their own, without cameras or maps or guides or historical knowledge. Discovering something unexpected about a place you are already familiar with is, to me, a particularly delightful feeling. So, save the tools for the second or third visit!" David Lee
I chose a diverse range of students to report about in the case study who had taken the class from 2002 to 2007. Celina now lives in Texas and is preparing for a move overseas. David lives in Korea. Ryan is still an MIT undergrad. David Foxe lives on the site he once explored. And Shutsu is actually in my urban nature class.