GEO 320 Urban Geography Fall 2009
Department of Geography and Meteorology, Valparaiso University


Syllabus GEO 320: Urban Geography, Fall 2009

Professor: Dr. Michael Longan

About Urban Geography

This course explores the setting in which most of the U.S. population and about half of the world's people live--the city.  Throughout history, urban areas have been the centers of economic, political, and cultural life.  Further, many of the critical issues of our time--social polarization, economic restructuring, environmental degradation, and poverty--are concentrated in urban areas.  This course explores the relationships among cities in a global urban system as well as the internal spatial arrangement of cities.  It asks questions about how people structure the spaces of cities as well as about how people’s lives are affected by the ways cities are structured. 

Urban geography is an exciting and vibrant sub-field of human geography there are many possible approaches to its study. While the course will address these different approaches, our primary emphasis will be upon urban social geography. We will be asking questions about why different people live in different parts of the city, about how people use and perceive urban space, about how communities and neighborhoods form, about who is responsible for creating the built environment of cities, and about how cities are changing in response to globalization and information and communications technologies.  In particular we will be concerned with issues of social justice and the city.  Cities are not constructed randomly but rather people make choices in the construction of cities that may either increase or decrease inequalities.  Are the cities that are building today cities we want to live in?  Will they be cities in which everyone has a chance at living a fulfilling life? In short, are our cities socially just?  Through out the semester we will use reading, discussion, and fieldwork to explore these questions.


Course Goals

After this course is over, students will…

  • Understand and be able to explain major concepts and theories from urban geography (urbanization, central place theory, gentrification, segregation, etc.)
  • Understand and be able to explain major approaches to and perspectives on urban geography (Chicago and L.A. Schools, spatial analysis, political economy, behavioral, urban economic, urban historic, urban social, postmodern, environmental, etc.)   
  • Be able to recognize and critically analyze the geographical dimensions of urban issues they encounter in the media, in their future studies, or in their future vocations.
  • Be able to interpret everyday urban landscapes and understand some of the spatial processes that help to structure them.
  • Be able to integrate geographical, economic, political, cultural, historical and social knowledge in order to analyze urban issues. 
  • Be prepared to identify the interaction between urban geography and other subfields of human geography (including economic geography, cultural geography, population geography, environmental geography, etc.) or their own majors and vocational aspirations.
  • Use the knowledge about cities gained in class to enhance their own visits to cities or lives in cities and gain confidence in their ability to successfully navigate a city via public transportation or on foot. 
  • Have a greater appreciation for cultural diversity within cities as well as a better understanding of how discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and disability structure cities and affect people's lives.
  • Have a greater appreciation for cities as well as the diversity of different urban places in the world.
  • Be prepared to participate in the political life of one's own city or town (as a voter, an active citizen, a letter to the editor writer, an appointed board member, an activist, an employee, or an elected official.)


Required Texts

  • Pacione, Michael. 2009. Urban Geography A Global Perspective Third Edition. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-46202-0  Used or New ~$60-$80 Paperback.
  • Rushing, Wanda.  2009.  Memphis and the Paradox of Place: Globalization in the American South. University of North Carolina Press.  New ~$16-$22
  • Additional readings will be made available on reserve in the library, at my office, or will be found online. 

You should do the assigned readings before coming to class as indicated on the course schedule below.  Urban Geography: A Global Perspective by Michael Pacione is a comprehensive text on urban geography that will serve as the basis for lectures and discussions.  Pay special attention to the overall framework used to organize the book (pp 3-4).  While we won’t be able to use the entire book, it should serve as a helpful resource in subsequent courses in planning or regional geography.  Memphis and the Paradox of Place will offer an opportunity to explore the themes we discuss in class in a specific context. The book explores the history, economy, politics, and culture of a city that most of us take for granted.   

Field Work  There will be at least two required field assignments this semester including a walking trip through a neighborhood in Valparaiso and a field excursion to Chicago.  Because notice of the field trips was included in the catalog and schedule of courses and is being provided to you now, in order to receive credit for these assignments you must go on the field trips. The first field work assignment will be an examination of the urban landscape of Valparaiso (on foot) and will take place during the course period.  The second field work assignment will be based upon a field excursion to Chicago via the South Shore and the CTA.  The trip is planned for Sunday October 25 leaving on the South Shore around 9:00 a.m. and returning by 7:30 p.m. at the latest, though depending on train schedules we may leave on a later train and/or come back on an earlier train.  We will explore the Loop and Millennium Park area and one or more neighborhoods depending upon the time available.  You should be prepared to do quite a bit of walking.  Bring a camera, water, sunscreen, a hat, spending money, and good walking shoes. You will be responsible for your own transportation and food.  Total cost including transportation and meals will range from $20-$30 depending upon your spending preferences.  Bring a transit pass or exact change for the CTA since the machines do not give change. Because of construction on the South Shore this is the only possible day for the Chicago Trip.

If there is sufficient student interest I would also like to do an evening field excursion to a “New Urbanist” neighborhood near Valparaiso (with dinner afterwards) on Friday September 28th and possibly a trip to Gary and the urban areas of Lake County.

For many students these field excursions are the highlight of the course because they offer an opportunity to observe and experience what they have learned in the classroom in real urban environments.  We take public transportation and walk around the city because it will allow you to see the city in a way that you might not have seen it before.  At the same time please do not expect that these trips will be like tours that you take on vacation.  Instead of having expert point things out to you, it will be your job to apply the knowledge that you have gained to interpret what you see.  For example, should we experience a delay in the public transportation system (an inevitability in these days of funding cut backs), your first reaction should not be to claim that the field trip was badly planned because in fact it was planned precisely so that you are likely to experience such inconveniences. Rather you should think about how such delays might affect someone living in the city.  What does the flaw that you’ve experienced in the transportation say about the city itself?  If you don’t like what you see or you felt that the experience was miserable, boring, or otherwise disagreeable then think about what caused this reaction.  Is it a quality of the city itself?  Is it because of your own pre-existing assumptions about the city? Is it because you weren’t actively observing and thinking about what you were seeing?  

Analytical Essays  Students will write two 5-7 page analytical essays during the semester.  The first essay will be on the Film Flag Wars. The first part of the essay will be an introduction that includes a short summary of the main arguments and issues discussed in the film (no more than a page).   The purpose of this section is to familiarize your reader with the topic and the argument of the book.  Be careful when writing this section.  Many students make the mistake of discussing minor details rather than the main topics and arguments.  The meat of your essay will be the second part where you raise a question (or a series of questions) about the film and discuss the question or questions.  The question you raise is entirely up to you as is the way that you discuss it.  For instance, you might want to critique some aspect of the book or you might want to raise questions about how the conclusions of the book might apply in a different situation. Whatever you do, you should provide your own answer to the question or questions you raise. 

The second analytical essay will focus upon the book Memphis and the Paradox of Place. This assignment is designed to give you an opportunity to practice applying theories and ideas in urban geography to understand a specific case.  For this essay you will need to answer the question, What can we learn about the geography of the contemporary American city from Memphis? You should apply what you have learned throughout the semester in answering this question.  Your essay, as with all essays should answer the question with a thesis statement and should support the argument with evidence from the book and your class texts.  You may also use other sources if you wish but your essay will primarily respond to Memphis and the Paradox of Place. As with all work you hand in you should cite your sources.

Reflection Papers  Conscious reflection on what you are learning helps you to make sense of what you are learning as well as to become more aware of what you already know.  Four reflection papers will be assigned; one at the beginning and one at the end of the semester.  At the beginning of the semester you will be asked to write an urban autobiography exploring your previous experiences with different kinds of cities as well your pre-existing ideas about how cities are structured and how they work.  At the end of the semester you will be asked to write a paper reflecting upon what you have learned about cities during the course of the semester and to speculate about how you might use what you have learned in future courses and in your life.  A third reflection paper will be on the first half of the video Flag Wars and should share your responses to the video as well as questions that you would like to ask in class (along with possible answers).  This reflection will serve to get your mind prepared to write your analytical essay. The Fourth reflection paper will be on the first chapter of Memphis and the Paradox of Place.  In this paper you should ask questions about unfamiliar terms, make connections with previous course content, and offer your response to what you have read. All of these papers should be at least two double spaced pages in length if not longer.  You are encouraged to engage in reflective writing on your own throughout the semester.

Short Out of Class and In Class Assignments.  These assignments are designed to help prepare you for in class activities, to collect data to be used in class, or to enhance our discussions in the classroom.  They will usually be assigned verbally in class and due the next class period, or they will be completed during the class period.  That means that if you miss class for any reason, you need to contact me or a classmate to find out about what you missed, before you come to the next class.  I will not accept late assignments because you missed class.  If they are graded, these assignments will be graded on a pass/fail basis and will count toward your participation grade.

Participation I will be assessing participation during the semester by taking notes on our formal discussions. The course will involve a combination of both lecture and discussion and you should have plenty of opportunities to participate.  I will also count out of class office visits and e-mail or IM exchanges, where discussion of the course material takes place, as participation.  Short in-class and out of class assignments will count toward your participation grade.  If you have difficulty speaking up in class, come see me and we can work on that.  I will do my best to provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for discussion. 

Exams.  There will be two midterms and a final.  They will consist of a combination of short answer questions, definitions, and longer essay questions.  The first exam covers the first three weeks of the course and gives you an idea of what the exams for the course will be like.  The second exam covers the next seven weeks.  The final exam will focus primarily upon the last four weeks of the class, but will also ask you to synthesize what you have learned throughout the course.   Exams should be taken at the scheduled time except in the case of an illness, emergency, or school event or where arrangements have been made in advance to take the exam at another time.  Students having more than two final exams in one day should arrange to take one of the examinations at another time

Grading Your grade will be based upon the following assignments.

Midterm Exam I                                             20 points
Midterm Exam II                                            50 points
Final Exam                                                      50 points
Analytical Essays
Analytical Essay I                                           50 points
Analytical Essay II                                         50 points
Field Experiences
Valpo Field Exercise                                       30 points
Chicago Field Exercise                                   50 points
Reflection Papers
Urban Biography                                            20 points
End of Semester Reflect.                                20 points
Flag Wars Reflection                                      20 points
Memphis Reflection                                        20 points                                
Attendance and Participation                           10 points
Homework, In class                                        10 points
exercises and
Discussion Participation

Total                                                                            400 points


Grading Scale

A =  372--400

B  = 332-347

C  = 292-307

D = 252-267

A- = 360-371

B- = 320-331

C- = 280-291

D- = 240-251

B+ = 348-359

C+ = 308-319

D+ = 268-279

F = 269 and below

Course Policies

The Student’s Responsibility for Learning Course Content

It is the student’s responsibility to learn the content of the course (theories, concepts, ideas, etc.) by doing the reading assigned for the day, thinking about it before class, and talking to the professor about gaps in understanding.  Many courses that you take rely upon lecture to deliver the content that you are expected to learn.  In this course your readings are the primary means by which you will learn the content of the course.  In other words, I expect that you will attend lectures and discussions having already learned at a basic level the major concepts and ideas to be discussed each day.  Our class sessions will be devoted to reviewing the material you have read in order to solidify your understanding, answering questions prompted by the reading, introducing new material where appropriate, applying what you have learned to understand specific cases, and critically analyzing the material you have read.  You should expect to do two to three hours of work outside of class for every hour in class.  Please manage your time appropriately. 

Policy on Late Assignments

You must hand in all of your assignments on time.  If because of circumstances beyond your control you need more time to complete an assignment please see me ahead of time (a day in advance) to ask for an extension.  Extensions may or may not be granted depending upon the circumstances.  If you must turn in an assignment late and you did not ask for an extension, include a written explanation of the reason for its tardiness along with the assignment.  If the explanation is judged to be inadequate the assignment will not be accepted or will be accepted for reduced credit.

Attendance and Participation

I expect on-time attendance for all class sessions unless you are ill, you are required to attend a university event, you have a family emergency, or you have made prior arrangements with me. If you must miss class for these reasons please provide me with a written note or an e-mail so that I can excuse your absence in my records. If you send me e-mail please place the words “GEO320 Absence” in the subject line to help me in my record keeping. Absences for any other reason will lower your grade. Please be on time to class. Coming in late distracts your professor and your fellow students and often some of the most important ideas are presented at the beginning of class. You will lose attendance points if you are consistently late.

I will be assessing participation during the semester by taking notes on both the quantity and quality of your contributions to our formal discussions.  Because of the small size of this course all members of the class will need to participate in order to make the course a success.  If you have difficulty speaking up in class, come see me and we can find some strategies to make you more comfortable. I will do my best to provide a comfortable and welcoming environment for discussion.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know during the first week of class so that your learning needs may be appropriately met.  All discussions will remain confidential.

Authorized Aid and the Honor Code

The Honor Code will be upheld in this course.  Authorized aid in this class will be limited to your own personal knowledge during exams and your own work on all written exercises.  You may discuss readings with classmates but your writing should be your own.  You are encouraged to use the services of the writing center and you should have someone else proofread or offer suggestions on your written assignments before handing them in.

 You must use quotation marks for direct quotes, cite your sources, and include a list of works cited on your briefs. Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism and may be considered unauthorized aid because you are essentially representing someone else’s work as your own. Many first year students mistakenly believe that it is OK to cut and paste text from web sites into their papers without providing both quotation marks and a proper citation.  Web sites are no different from any other source and need to be cited fully.  Please refer to a writing guide for details on proper methods of citation (you should have bought one for your freshman core class).  Please ask if you do not understand methods of citation since not citing or improperly citing your sources can lead to Honor Code violations. Finally sharing your papers written for this class with others on the Internet without notifying the professor first or downloading papers written by others to hand in (either in part or in their entirety) constitutes unauthorized aid. 


Standards for Written Work

Your written work should conform to the following standards:

  • Papers should be typed, double spaced with one inch margins, using a Times Roman or other similar serif font.  Courier style fonts are not to be used).  Papers should be stapled in the upper left hand corner. Plastic report covers should not be used.
  • Papers should cite sources and use the author date style of referencing commonly used in the discipline of geography.  See a copy of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers for examples.
  • Research papers should make use of sources from the World Wide Web only when the source is a government agency or other reliable institution, an online version of a print resource (i.e. article databases), or when it is the online source itself that is the subject of the research.  See your professor concerning the appropriateness of using sources from the Web.  You should not use Wikipedia or other online encyclopedic references in a college level paper.  
  • Papers should be free of mechanical and grammatical errors. 
  • Papers should conform to the requirements of the specific assignments (given above).


Course Structure

The content of Urban Geography is organized into two short introductory and concluding sections and three longer core sections as described in the text and illustrated in the diagram below:

·    Introduction: Approaching Urban Geography:  What is a city? What is urban geography and what are some of the major approaches to it?

·    Urbanization and Urban Systems: How do cities relate to each other as part of an urban system and how can we talk about the relative growth of cities in relation to rural areas.

·    Inside the City: How are cities structured?  What goes on in neighborhoods?  What is the relationship between neighborhoods and community? What causes segregation and how does it help to structure the city and therefore people’s lives?

·    Economic and Political Geography of the City How does the economy and politics structure the built environment?  What effect do cities and urban growth have on the environment? How can we plan for urban growth? What can we learn by looking at the urban landscape?

·    Conclusion: The World and The Future—How are cities around the world structured?  What will cities be like in the future?  How is the Internet transforming the city? What can we do to ensure that our cities prosper into the future?

This course structure is designed to give you a solid conceptual model of the content of urban geography. It does not, however, exactly match that of your textbook.  As a result we will be reading some chapters from your text in a different order.  See the schedule below.