Director of Community Engagement and Collaborative Learning, Professor of Geography/Urban Studies
Myrna Breitbart, professor of geography and urban studies, has an A.B. and Ph.D. from Clark University. Her teaching and research interests focus on the gender, race, and class dimensions of built environments and planning over time; struggles over urban public space; and urban community development, with a current emphasis on the new cultural economy and its role in urban regeneration.
She has extensive experience with participatory action research, especially involving young people in urban exploration and local planning, and has a long history of involvement with community-based organizations in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
"Wicked Problems" are complex, ever changing, and resistant to simple solutions; they require transformative and purposeful innovation. In urban studies, the challenges posed by economic and social inequality, the need to plan for multiple publics, and the distancing of residents from public space and access to planning processes, suggest a number of questions: What do we need to understand about the people who seek to participate in, and are impacted by, spatial (and social) planning as we try to foster more equitable and sustainable living and working environments? How do we design methods for understanding the experience of multiple publics in places that are undergoing constant change and need to respond to a diverse constituency? Where are the spaces in which to experiment with improvisational and flexible forms of intervention that might open up new economic and social opportunities? These and other questions will be explored in this course through case studies of urban intervention methodologies and practices. Mid semester we will pair with a sister course in social entrepreneurship to both combine our collective learning and work collaboratively on a shared project. This project(s0) will bring students together to share, re-purpose and utilize the various approaches they have learned about social enterprise development and urban planning/design to creatively address an identified need on campus.
This course introduces the field of urban studies in a primarily U.S. context. It explores how markedly different urban visions and planning strategies both respond to, and promote, economic and social change. Critical urban theory and case studies examine how and why transformations in city space/life occur over time, and how social inequities are mapped onto the urban landscape, prompting struggles over the "right to the city". We consider the historical origins of urban social reform and the radical genesis, and then demise, of such policies as public housing. Throughout the course, the city is approached as a contested terrain upon which solutions to problems and alternative visions are imagined, realized or thwarted. A contemporary focus on the neoliberal city, and uneven development, raises questions about the underlying aims of such trends as the privatization of public space, gentrification, and design initiatives such as the New Urbanism. The course also examines efforts to position social equity at the center of sustainable urban development, including policies related to "smart growth" and the "creative economy". At the scale of the neighborhood, attention is directed to the unplanned city -- the "loose spaces" within which residents attempt to meet critical needs. Work with a local urban community-based organization is an option.
Director of Community Engagement and Collaborative Learning Professor of Geography/Urban Studies
Mail Code SS
Franklin Patterson Hall 206
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002