SUS 7100A Environmental Planning

Fall 2015. Subject to refinement and updating.


Instructor: Denise Hoffman
Schedule: Tuesday 1:00 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Location: TBA
3 credits 3 hours/week


Denise Hoffman

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This course provides an overview of the physical environment of the New York City metropolitan region including geology, soils, surface water, dominant weather systems, the changing climate, plant communities, wildlife habitat and regional design style trends. The region is utilized a case study site for multi-layered analysis. Each student also prepares a colloquium presentation (short paper and slides) on a particular aspect of New York City regional ecology, design, local material or an historical feature.


The course opens with a study of ecological theory and current questions in environmental planning, based on an overview of the physical environment of greater New York City, and the often hidden environmental systems that intertwine with city-making. That overview is a basis for examining the evolution of New York City’s infrastructural systems to understand the scope and scale of socio-environmental process negotiation that define the current city and the ideas that will shape its future. Urban infrastructures embody social and cultural issues as they are implemented within dynamic environmental processes. The designed urban infrastructural landscape is as much constructed of shifting human values, as it is water, air plants or concrete.  The rift between American cultural ideas of landscape and American constructed landscapes – our patterns of occupation – is growing larger. The messy nature of overlapping and contradictory urban infrastructures obfuscates the ideas underlying their design.  In order to initiate truly sustainable practices, designers are charged with reconciling the difference between powerful cultural ideas of landscape and the social and environmental milieu of constructed infrastructure.  Examination of the underlying environmental systems of New York City:  geology, hydrology, soils, climate, and the evolution of infrastructure construction in the city, provide a case study for examining the interplay of society, culture and environment in design practice.


  1. Develop understanding of the reciprocity between social forces and environmental processes in urban areas
  2. Build familiarity with contemporary ecological, design, and planning theory
  3. Examine New York City’s human and environmental system’s transformation over time as basis of understanding processes of future transformation
  4. Expand understanding of the city as an eco-system, and develop skills to analyze and critique transformation of its constituent systems
  5. Provide a grounding in environmental theory that can be directly related to design practice
  6. Enable students to become conversant in the languages of ecology, environmentalism, theories of nature, and urban landscape design

Course Requirements

  1. Class Discussion: Seminar readings will be given one week in advance and students are required to participate in class discussions.  Additional texts will be brought into discussion in the lecture, and slides/images will illustrate aspects of the issues to be discussed. Students are expected to contribute to conversation in reading groups and general class discussion.
  2. Synopses: A one or two paragraph (300 words minimum) summary of each of the weekly readings to be printed and handed in at the end of each class.  The synopsis will be graded and synopsis handed in late will not be eligible for full credit.  No synopsis will be accepted more than two weeks after the deadline and no credit will be given.
  3. Class Presentations: A 45-minute presentation to the class in powerpoint format on an aspect of current urban infrastructure technology and its impact on the urban landscape.

Students are to submit a topic for approval by the end of September, and an outline of their presentation by early October. Outlines will be returned to students with comments in early November. Final presentations are to be presented to the class and a handout of the presentation with 2 slides per sheet should be submitted to the instructor with a disk of the presentation and web page. Final presentation slides should have images and a clear outline of the paper content – not the entire text to be presented. In other words, the image text organizes your thoughts, but you do not read your slide text for the presentation.

Required Readings

The seminar provides an opportunity for students to read diverse perspectives on environmental planning, and then synthesize the readings through using their synopsis in moderated class discussion.

Grading and Related Matters:

  1. Grading for the class will be determined according to the following criteria:
Class Presentation25%
Class Participation and Weekly Reading Synopses75%
  1. Incompletes: There will be no Incomplete given for a course except for a documented medical excuse at the discretion of the instructor. You are required to attend all classes and be present in the studio during the allocated times. Absence need to be notified as mentioned in the paragraph above in schedule.
  2. Attendance and timely submission of assignments: More than two unexcused absences in a course will result in a failing grade (two absences is equal to over 13% of total class time). Due to the nature of reviews and presentations, late assignments will not be reviewed for a grade. Each student must turn in what is completed or receive a failing grade for the particular assignment. Names of groups and individuals should be clearly indicated on all assignments.
  3. Grading Standards
GradeExplanationQuality Points
A+Rare, near perfect achievement4.00
B+High caliber3.30
B-Below average2.70
C+Not satisfactory2.30
FCourse failure0.00

Course Outline

Week 1    Planning for What?  Part 1

  • Sample case study:  The Landscape of Beef

Summaries of readings are due the following week for discussion in class:

Gullo, Lassiter and Wolch, “The Cougar’s Tale” from Animal Geographies ed. by J. Wolch and J. Emel.

David Harvey, “Valuing Nature”, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference.

Week 2    Ecological Planning:  Oxymoron?

  • Nature - Manahatta to Manhattan
  • the culture of space and carpet urbanism


Bruno Latour, “Why Political Ecology Has to Let Go of Nature” from: Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, 2004.

Neil Evernden-3 chapters, The Social Creation of Nature, 1992

Week 3    Planning for What?  Part 2

  • Social mechanisms and public space


Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swyngedouw, “Urban political ecology:

Politicizing the production of urban natures”: In the Nature of Cities. Questioning Cities Series, ed. Gary Bridge, Sophie Watson, London: Routledge, 2006, pp. 1-20.

J. Baird Callicott, “From the Balance of Nature to the Flux of Nature”, Aldo Leopold and the Ecological Conscience, Richard Knight and Suzanne Riedel

Week 4    No Class for September holiday

Week 5    Environmental Processes in the New York City region Part I

  • Geology and Climate of the New York Bight 
  • NYC environmental processes and climate change


John Mc Phee,In Suspect Terrain” Annals of the Former World.1981.

Imre Lakatos, “Falsification and Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes”, Scientific Knowledge: Basic Issues in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Janet Kourany, Wadsworth Publishing Company 1998.

Week 6    Environmental Processes in the New York City region Part II

  • Soil, Water, Plants, Animals


Ian McHarg,Sea and Survival”, “The Metropolitan Region”, Design With Nature.

       J.H. Kunstler, “American Space”, “Life on the Gridiron”, The Geography of Nowhere

Week 7    Circulation -- Connective Tissue/Collective Meaning I

  • The Grid and the Group: a look at New York City’s evolving street system


Diane Favro. ‘Rome:  The Street Triumphant, The Urban Impact of Roman Triumphal Parades”, Streets ed. Celic, Favro and Ingersoll 1994.

Venturi, Brown, Izenour, Part One, “Learning From Las Vegas”, revised edition 1977. Robert Moses, “Are Cities Dead”, The Atlantic Monthly 1962.

Week 8    Circulation -- Connective Tissue/Collective Meaning II

  • Fundamental to urban inhabitation is the format of the city – its circulation plan.  Streets reflect more than just settlement pattern, they format physical systems of transfer for goods and services and land as property.  They also format collective urban experience, creating a reciprocal arena for culture and social engagement. 


Annemarie Adams. ‘London: The Healthy Victorian City, The Old London Street at the International Health Exhibition of 1884’, Streets ed. Celic, Favro and Ingersoll 1994.

Ivan Illich, ‘The Dirt of the Cities’, “The Aura of Cities”, “The Smell of the Dead” and “Utopia of an Oderless City”, H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness. 1985.

Martin Melosi, “Environmental Crisis in the City”, Effluent America: Cities, Industry, Energy and the Environment 2001.

Week 9    Water and Waste -- Physical Systems and Perceptions of Value

  • The class will examine the development of water and waste infrastructure in New York City.  Discussion will examine decision-making processes.


Mitchell, William J. “City of Bits”, “Cyborg Citizens” from City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn 1996.

Spigel, Lynn. “The Suburban Home Companion: Television and the Neighborhood in Postwar America” from Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs 2001.

Week 10    Power – Physical Systems and Social Empowerment

  • Power networks cut across our physical landscapes as they expand our conceptual horizons.  These dynamic systems increasingly define our territories and our patterns of inhabitation.


Kevin Bone ed., passages from The New York Waterfront Evolution and Building Culture of the Port and Harbor 2003.

Susan Strasser, “Obsolescence: Technology and Styling in Product Design” from Waste and Want 2001.


Week 11    New York Waterfront:  More than Economic Infrastructure?

  • The interrelationship between the changing economies, demographics, and the form of the waterfront will be examined.  


Jane Jacobs, “The Uses of Neighborhood Parks”, from The Death and Life of Great American Cities 1961.

Susan Herrington, On Landscapes (chapters 2 and 3) 2008.

Robert Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape” from Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings 1996

Week 12    New York Parks: Manifold Roles in Human Ecology

  • development-evolution of Central Park
  • parks as urban renewal


Christof Girot, “Towards A Landscape Society, Changes in Scenery” from Recovering Landscape ed. James Corner 1999.

Deborah Gans, “The Sea Above the Ground Below” and Peter Zlonicky, “Strategies for Extreme Conditions: The Emscher Park International Building Exhibition”, Extreme Sites: The Greening of Brownfield 2004.

Week 13    Environmental Processes as an Armature for Development

  • Case Study: Emscher Park International Building Exhibition

Start of Class Project Presentations – 3 presentations

Week 14    Class Project Presentations – 3 presentations

Week 15    Class Project Presentations – 3 presentations

Presentations will continue in Exam week if necessary.