Are downtowns done? Nineteenth century industrialization drew people from an agrarian setting to manufacturing cities. Deindustrialization, the mass production of the automobile and federal policies drew people and businesses out of U.S. cities to surrounding suburbs. In the last decades of the 20th century America’s cities rebounded as downtowns diversified their land-use, evolving from 9-5 office districts to 24-hour, mixed-use business, hospitality, retail, institutional and residential areas with an increasing number of well-managed parks and vibrant plazas. In many cities, housing demand pushed prices beyond the range of many residents.
Covid-19 has challenged many of the core assets around which these places have been built: public transit and the benefits of density, walkability and face-to-face interaction in the workplace, at conventions and meetings, in hotels, restaurants, cafes and public spaces. Pre-pandemic, cultural institutions, entertainment destinations and retailers were already facing strong competition from on-line alternatives. Many of these institutions and businesses closed for almost 18 months.
Can businesses and institutions in city centers rebound and recapture market share? Is the shift to virtual meeting platforms, flexible work patterns and ecommerce an acceleration of pre-existing trends, a profound transformation from which there is no going back, or a short-term phenomenon, after which cities will resume pre-pandemic patterns with only modest modifications? Is the migration of businesses and people of means out of dense cities a temporary phenomenon or a harbinger of the resurgence of suburbs and smaller towns and greater affordability in city centers? Will the dominance of a few of hyper-competitive, global cities that emerged after the turn of the century be challenged by the rise of lower-cost, less-dense alternatives?
Are cities in nations that better contained the pandemic through strong and coordinated central government action and community cohesion faring better in recovery? Are politics in the United States so fragmented as to have become dysfunctional and incapable of responding to this crisis? Are cities that were just beginning to confront the extreme economic and racial disparities that had emerged or been exposed in 21st century cities, able to embark on more inclusive strategies for growth, affordable housing social justice and public safety while facing severe, local fiscal constraints? What role will the national government continue to play on the path to rebound or transformation?
City Planning 642 will consider all of these issues and begins as we are wrestling with the spread of the Delta variant in the U.S. among the unvaccinated that has delayed the return to work for many businesses and further challenged retail, restaurants and public transit. In prior years, this course focused on public policy, but the primary emphasis was pragmatic with a focus on implementation: what can be achieved at the local level and how things get done in cities by public and quasi-public organizations, business improvement districts, real estate developers and other civic actors. The focus has been on doing, not saying.
This year will not be different. Recovery from the pandemic requires international coordination and cooperation, unprecedented actions by national governments, expedited production by pharmaceutical companies, well-designed and equitable distribution strategies. However, what happens on the sidewalks, in stores and restaurants, in office buildings, universities and local health care institutions, in residential neighborhoods, religious and social service institutions and in parks and public spaces may determine which cities rebound, which cities capitalize on this crisis to make needed changes and which places succumb to unresolved local challenges. This course focuses on what is and can be done at the local level.
Course work will consist of readings, lectures, guest lectures, student reports and observations and class discussions. Grades will be based on a first short report (10%); a mid-term (30%), a final paper (30%) and the level of participation in class discussions (10%).
SUGGESTED HISTORICAL BACKGROUND READING: FACTORS THAT SHAPED U.S. CITIES
Short-term perspectives: Four Snapshots Manhattan, London and Philadelphia
The Longer-term view: The impact of pandemics
Two Views of Walnut Street
First assignment: While the weather is still warm, the class begins with some direct observation and analysis of two different pairs of public spaces in Philadelphia. Select one pair of parks and use several different evaluation methodologies. This will serve as the focus for the first writing assignment.
Final Paper Due: Public Space Observations 4-5 pages with photos
Midterm Essay due.
Responding to Homelessness, Panhandling & Quality of Life Issues