All posts filed under: education

What is the story of a place? Thoughts on field research.

A lecture I gave to the Qualitative Research for Urban Planners course at Harvard’s GSD.  The talk was based on my Master’s thesis, which I have just now (finally) published online. * I came across this headline in the Onion yesterday – about a planner who got through his whole urban design before all of a sudden he realized, oh my god, he was recreating a city that already exists, in a totally different place.  This is funny of course because this is what people imagine planners kinda actually do.  So today, I want to talk about how not to be that guy.  How to ensure with your research process that you are intervening in a place on its own terms, based on a good understanding of what is already there,­ and not imagining that DesMoines is Philadelphia. Here’s the guiding question of what I’m going to be talking about: “What is a place’s story?” Questions are important because they’re the basis for entering a research problem with an open mind, and also to focus …

With Taste, Smell, and Imagination

This piece first appeared at History at the Table, as part of the NCPH Working Group on Public History and the Local Food Movement. * I’m standing in the basement of Bondir, the intimate, award-winning Cambridge restaurant, watching Chef Jason Bond dismantle a hindquarter of beef, removing fat from muscle and muscle from bone.  As he drops each chunk into its designated plastic tub, he explains to me what it will be used for.  Every bit of this 200 pounds of meat will be consumed.  The steaks will dry-age for some months; the fat, brightly yellow because the cow was grazing on bright green grass, will be rendered and used for daily cooking; the tough muscles will be stews, cooked with the stock made from the bones.  This one animal will feed hundreds of diners; it’s the only way for high-quality meat like this, Chef tells me, to be economic. But I don’t think it’s just economy that drives Bond’s pursuit of a “snout-to-tail” approach to beef, or his painstaking efforts to remove different kinds …

learning from beginners

Yesterday I had the fun privilege of being one of the guest reviewers for the first studio presentation by Urban Planning students in the GSD’s summer Career Discovery program.  It was really inspiring, watching students new to the discipline — and coming from diverse educational and personal backgrounds — discovering and struggling through some of the fundamental questions of planning.  Who decides?  What is a good place?  Who are places for?  Do cars bring activity or deaden it?  How do places change and improve, and can you plan for organic transformation?  Does a neighborhood need a uniform brand, an identifiable character? But there were some other themes and questions that developed over the day that were new to me, or were expressed in new ways.  They were very interested in pace — the pace at which we move through the city, and what it takes to interrupt our frantic pace to introduce lingering, stopping. They also engaged time through questions of temporality and permanence, of incremental steps versus big gestures. And perhaps most interestingly, many …

civic culture begins at dinnertime.

I want to tell you today about my favorite holiday. It’s Passover, and while I’m no longer a practicing Jew (in fact I consider myself a Humanist) I’ve found that having a Seder is still extremely important to me. As an adult living away from my family, and just beginning to build my own, I’ve found that the Seder is a ritual that invites me to think, and rethink, my commitments to friends, to tradition, to food and to meaning.  Every year, it means something different. This year, it’s meant thinking about what it takes to produce meaningful conversations about identity and history.  In part, that’s because I’m working on some non-Passover projects about this myself: I’m finally launching Terroir Studio, a kind of roving collaborative initiative for exploring how we can use food and meals to help us create a sense of community and learn about the places we call home. Another reason why Passover has resonated so much with me this year is that  Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have released their …

2011 taught us to learn in public.

When I wrote this post back in October about living in public, I had no idea how apt it would be!  In the following weeks, the #Occupy movement made living in public a national issue and a powerful strategy for protest.  Urbanists like the folks at #whOWNSpace made the public space itself an issue, shedding light on the politics of ownership and use.  Saskia Sassen’s summer op-ed on open-source urbanism turned out to be prophetic, using the metaphor of technological open-source practices, where users and creators share, collaborate, and experiment in creating knowledge, to describe how our cities of the future will work.  Occupy looked like a complete manifestation of this practice. And pop-up democracy even started to enter the broader vocabulary, as Occupy gave thinkers the platform to start talking more broadly about the importance of citizen-generated political action and civic discourse in public space.  And with all this civic action, people started teaching and learning in public, too, in all kinds of exciting ways. First, we saw the rise of Occupy libraries, giving …

entropy + institutions = pop-up democracy

I’ve been really excited and pleased by how much attention and conversation my post on the entropic city  has generated.  Since then I’ve found a lot of interesting thinking that folks have been doing, primarily in Europe, about this issue.  There’s this group of papers from a conference in Paris in 2008, this traveling exhibition from Spain, from around the same time, and this series of studies in Germany.  Of course, in America people are thinking about temporality too.  The Festival of Ideas for the New City last weekend in New York, which I regretfully could not attend, included a panel on The Heterogeneous City, for example, and included all kinds of exhibitions, interventions, and celebrations of the unexpected, the in-between, the temporary and the engaging.  The AIA in New York is also showing this exhibition on “Jugaad Urbanism” — resourceful, dynamic, innovative — in India. This is urbanism, but maybe it’s not planning.  There’s something profoundly anti-planning about all of this, in fact: an admission that economies, communities, and narratives cannot be predicted in …