On Friday, I finished my Introduction to Urban Geography at UBC. Overall, it was a positive experience. The features that made it a particularly good course are:
- An excellent instructor, who combined his cutting edge research with effective teaching (a rare accomplishment of a laudable goal of university teaching).
- Interesting assignments that made me think about cities in new ways.
- Coverage of topics and themes that I had never related directly to urban studies, so that I could make new connections.
- Fruitful discussions with intelligent, well-rounded classmates.
1. Instructor – Nicholas Lynch, the instructor, is a PhD candidate in Geography at UBC. His current research is about “post-institutional” residential conversions: former churches being redeveloped as condos. His expertise in this area led to fruitful discussions about gentrification, inner cities, changing housing markets and changing demographics in cities. It was also a good demonstration of the importance of academic research on important topics and was well integrated into the curriculum. Nicholas was also an excellent lecturer who discussed wide ranging topics with ease, presented material in a variety of formats (including well illustrated Power Point slides and video clips), and encouraged discussion and debate in class.
2. Assignments – There were two written assignments for the course: a group “landscape analysis” and an individual film analysis assignment. We were also required to lead one of eight seminars with a partner, participate in discussions during the seminars and lectures, and write two exams.
For the landscape analysis, I worked with another student on a landscaped analysis of Tout Lake Park. We looked at festival uses of the park (the Farmer’s Market, Illuminares Lantern Festival and Parade of Lost Souls) and the social effects of new, Olympics related construction on the park. It was an excellent opportunity to think critically about a space I once knew well, and to formally record my observations in writing.
For the film analysis, I analyzed Disclosure (1994). Because I was limited to 1500 words, I had to focus on a limited number of issues: “depictions of suburban life; economic change in the nature of work, production, industry and manufacturing; and changing notions of space and place in cities, especially the apparent dichotomy between the physical and the imaginary, ‘virtual’ city.” I concluded that while these issues are interconnected and reveal issues common to many cities, the movie also ignores how these issues connect to the developing world. This assignment forced me to think about representations of cities in popular media, and made me more aware of the importance of cities in films. You can read the full essay here.
A few days ago, I posted a summary of a reading that I wrote for the seminar that I led on Wednesday (July 28). The seminar itself went really well, with some of the most lively debate and discussion in seminars for this course. The syllabus suggested that “creativity is encouraged” in terms of how we ran the seminars, so I suggested to my partner that we do something that I had learned in a previous seminar course: have students post comments and questions about the readings in the course’s online chat room before the seminar; we could then use the comments and questions to lead the discussion. Doing this has a number of benefits:
- It allowed students to formalize their thoughts on the readings before class.
- It allowed them to pose questions and make comments if they were shy and didn’t feel comfortable talking a lot in class.
- It allowed my partner and I to anticipate problem areas in the articles better and guide the discussion to areas in which other students wanted clarification.
- Since seminar participation made up a part of each student’s grade in this course, it allowed them to demonstrate that they have read the articles. This allowed the instructor to more accurately gauge their participation.
Although not everybody in the seminar had the opportunity to post their comments and questions, it was still a useful exercise. My partner and I were able to use the comments to prompt discussion and extend it further than otherwise would have been possible. This is a technique that I will use in the future, if I have the opportunity to run seminars.
The mid-term and the final were well designed tests – rather than asking for the regurgitation of information or the shading of circles on computer marked multiple choice exams, these tests posed conceptual questions asking us to synthesize the major themes and concepts in the course. I did very well on the mid-term, and came out of the final exam feeling confident that I did similarly well.
3. Course Topics & Themes – Here’s a list of the themes covered in the course:
- Introductions and Deﬁning Urban Geography
- Historical Origins of Cities and Planning
- Evolving Urban Forms and the Context of Growth and Development
- Urban Systems and Globalization
- The Inner City
- Neighborhood Change, Gentriﬁcation
- Housing and Homelessness
- The Suburbs
- Governing and Representing the Neoliberal City: The City as Growth Machine, Urban Entrepreneurialism and Boosterism
- Economic Landscape in the City: Retail and Commercial Places
- Social Landscapes in the City: Immigration and the Cosmopolitan City
- The Tourist-Historic City; The Capital City
- Iconism & Architecture of the City
I was particularly impressed by the connections that were made in the lectures and readings between Globalization, Neoliberalism, Immigration, Cosmopolitanism and Cities. Although I had been aware that all these connections existed, it was interesting to see the connections being made explicit.
4. Classmates – Many of my classmates are masters students in architecture and planning. It was great to have so many experts in an undergraduate class, and I was constantly impressed by what we could teach each other during discussions.
It’s been an intense few weeks and I’m glad to be back in Victoria for a couple of weeks of rest before doing my final course in my B.A. at UVic: Geog 391 – Geocaching! During my break, I’ll be posting some more thoughts and impressions about my time in Vancouver and why I’m glad to be back in Victoria, as well as looking for a job.