Project Assignment 2: Your Site and Natural Processes
This is the second part of a four-part, semester-long project. The first part consisted of finding a site. Now the task is to find evidence on your site of its environmental history and ongoing natural processes. The objective, through the examination of your site and its context, is to explore how natural processes shape cities.
The field trip, class discussion, online videos, and required readings will be helpful in identifying and thinking about how natural processes have shaped and continue to shape your site; by now, you should have read Close-Up: How to Read the American City and should finish reading The Granite Garden.
Start your investigation by locating your site on early maps of Boston, such as those shown in lectures (several of these are depicted in John Reps, The Making of Urban America; many can be found in other books, such as Alex Krieger, Mapping Boston). Do these maps depict any natural features on your site itself? These may include rivers or streams, ponds, hills and valleys. If so, did these features (or the absence of them) influence the settlement of your site? Examine your site's location in relation to the natural features of Boston as a whole. Do you think this context influenced the development of your site?
Take a walk through your site looking for signs of its pre-urban landscape: Topography, for example, or water features. Look also for signs of ongoing natural processes of air, earth, water, and life (for example, light and wind; water flow and erosion; plant growth and animal movements). How do these relate to some of the larger environmental issues discussed in lectures and The Granite Garden? Make a map of your site with field notes of your observations.
Describe what you have found. The paper should be about 2400 words (approximately eight pages, typed double-spaced), accompanied by illustrations. Look for patterns. Include a copy of the map you used to discuss the environmental context of your site (don't forget to indicate the boundaries of your site and to cite the source of the map!).
Successful papers are well organized, cite specific examples to make each point, put examples in context, and are illustrated. In organizing your paper, focus on the features you found and the broader issues they raise. Go beyond mere description. Choose your examples carefully and discuss their significance.
The paper is due on class 9.
What is this assignment asking for?
This second assignment is asking you to "close read" your site, both on maps and in the place itself. Keep in mind that this paper requires two sorts of observational research, so give yourself time to observe, both by reading maps and at the site itself.
Here are the specifics:
- Find evidence on your site of its environmental history and ongoing natural processes by closely observing the site itself and by examining the site on maps, such as those in Krieger, Mapping Boston. Look for maps dating back as early as possible to fully understand the site's development over time as they relate to the natural environment.
- You will need to do both map research and site observations to write this paper.
- Use the reading presented in Sprin, The Granite Garden, as well as in-class discussions and the field trip to understand the concepts and approaches for reading natural processes and the marks they have left on your site. Your essay should explain how these concepts help to explain (and / or perhaps confound or complicate) your observations and mapped data.
- You should make a map of your site with field notes of your observations; use symbols to illustrate significant features. Use the map as an aid in writing; you may also integrate the map into your paper.
- Your paper should include a copy of the historical map(s) you used to discuss the environmental context of your site (make sure to keep track of the source of your map and cite that source fully and properly).
It might help to think of the work you do before writing the paper as pre-writing, where observing, reading, and researching all lay your foundation.
Use your journal to make initial field observations and try out some of your ideas. Be prepared to puzzle about or be surprised by what you might find.
Thinking about the assembly of the paper in steps might be helpful; here's a menu of options to try:
- Begin by locating your site on historical maps, such as those in Krieger, Mapping Boston. How do the maps depict natural features on your site? These may include rivers or streams, ponds, hills and valleys. Did these features (or the absence of them) influence the settlement of your site? Examine your site's location in relation to the natural features of Boston as a whole. How do you think this context influenced the development of your site?
- Locate your site on the U.S. Geological Survey Topographic Map of 1954 (ZIP-16.5MB). The topographic contours are shown as brown lines, where each line represents a 10-foot change in elevation. Note the topography of your site and its relationship to the topography of the surrounding area.
- Visit your site several times and observe the natural processes there. Get oriented to the direction of the wind, light and shadow on your site. Look for patterns of air flow, water flow, and erosion; plant grown and animal movements. Contemplate the topography: What are the physical contours of the site? Is it on a hill or in a valley, sloping or relatively level? Look for patterns, and also look for absences as well as presences. How do these relate to some of the larger environmental issues discussed in class and in The Granite Garden? Record and describe what you have found. Use both field note descriptions and photography and / or diagrams. Compare your observations to map renderings of the site. Consider not only how natural processes have shaped your site directly, but also how human activities and urban design have responded to certain environmental features of the site.
- Review your reading notes, class notes, and journal entries: What elements of these three sources of information (maps, fieldwork, and required reading) are applicable to your site and your questions of it? Look for concepts in the reading and lectures that help you decode or read your site. Explore these in your journal entries.
Starting to Write
Writing Guide for Assignment 2: Refining and Combining Observations (PDF)
You will need three kinds of material to write your paper:
- Your insights and observations, captured in notes, photographs, and diagrams, from site visits and from the maps. Prioritize and organize them. Which seem most significant? Which are explained or complicated by the concepts discussed in class and in The Granite Garden?
- Concepts drawn from the required reading, specifically the natural processes and phenomena presented in The Granite Garden and in class, which help to explain or raise further questions about your site and site maps.
- Notes on how your observations and hypotheses relate to larger issues of urban design and planning, in Boston and elsewhere, as discussed in class and in the required reading.
Structuring Your Paper
- Your paper should have a thesis. Your thesis will directly answer the central question of this assignment: How have natural processes shaped your site? What broader issues about how cities are shaped are raised by your findings? Your thesis should aim to explore the implications and significance of your findings.
- Provide specific evidence, in the form of examples, to support your thesis.
- Explain, support, and develop your thesis by applying concepts from The Granite Garden and from class. It's important that the concepts and ideas you draw from the reading illuminate your site and are chosen with a purpose. Before you start to write, you will have decided what concepts help you read your site and why (perhaps a journal entry).
- Organize your paper so that it explains your thesis and your significant findings in a logical and readable sequence of paragraphs. You could consider tracing from the present back in time or beginning with your earliest map and tracing the site's features forward. Much depends on the particular qualities of your site.
- Consider using chronology to help organize your paper. To do this you'll need to read and analyze historic maps in light of the site's current conditions. The historical conditions may help establish the foundational environmental characteristics of the site and may then give you a series of threads to trace through to your current site observations.
- Consider organizing your paper around what has changed and what has stayed the same in your site, in terms of its natural environment (such as changes to topography or hydrology), or what environmental change has triggered the most human / developmental change to your site.
- Consider using subheadings to help organize your draft, and potentially keep them for the paper and website presentation of your work. Subheadings help you when you are writing to be clear about what you are describing and arguing; in the final work it helps the reader follow your line of interpretation.