Geographies of Inequality: Planning and Politics in New York City


This course will explore the ways in which cities are built, used, and changed by both policy makers and popular movements. Using the New York Metropolitan Area as the primary case study, we will look at the city as a dynamic, disputed space—a place where social, political, environmental, and ideological differences are expressed in both the formal political sphere and in the politics of everyday life. This course will take us into the halls of city government, the offices of city planners, the homes and workplaces of New York residents, and the streets used by all. Throughout the course and through various lenses, we will constantly ask ourselves, “How are inequalities produced and contested in an urban environment?” To answer that question, we will study the city’s historical, contemporary, and future development, looking at both the hard infrastructure (such as transportation and waste management systems) that make the city work, as well as the soft infrastructure (such as planning and development policies) that shape its growth. Through various case studies—from the challenges facing Chinatown to the politics of affordable housing—we will look at the planned roots of urban inequalities, the constituencies that benefited from these policies, and the popular movements that have challenged them. We will take field trips to the city to experience the geography of inequality firsthand, taking in the landscapes as we learn about the history. In conference work, students will be encouraged to pursue one of two tracks: (1) focus on one particular expression of inequality and develop a historical analysis of how it was created, maintained, and contested; or (2) focus on one particular neighborhood and demonstrate how planning and popular movements have shaped the urban environment. As a component of conference work, students will have the opportunity to connect with local community organizations that are dealing with the subjects being studied. In addition to learning from their examples, students will be encouraged to share with these organizations the results of their research. Students are greatly encouraged to utilize the college’s new Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab and capacities to develop maps that demonstrate their theses over time and space. Students will also be encouraged to attend the Geography Film and Lecture series in which course-related topics will be addressed.