Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Overview

This workshop provides an introduction to urban environmental design and explores the potential of information technology and the Internet to transform public education, city design, and community development in inner-city neighborhoods. Integration of comprehensive ("top-down") and grassroots ("bottom-up") approaches to design and planning is a major theme.

Students will work in a real neighborhood with real people on a real project, putting theory into practice and reflecting on insights gained in the process. We will study environmental and community history and devise designs for vacant land near a middle school in West Philadelphia within the context of planning for the larger community and watershed.

The course is associated with the West Philadelphia Landscape Project (WPLP), a program that has integrated research, teaching, and community service since 1987. The WPLP website has received millions of hits since 1996. The new WPLP website will be the principle locus of our collaboration with the school and community.


The Mill Creek watershed and neighborhood in West Philadelphia, particularly the area around Sulzberger Middle School. The school is located next to a buried river, and many vacant lands near the school are located on or around the sewer, in the old floodplain of the buried creek.


Students and teachers at Sulzberger Middle School, neighborhood residents, staff of the Philadelphia Water Department.


Develop a new, community-based, environmental curriculum for Sulzberger Middle School where students engage in the process of community development. Since the first Power of Place class in 1997, seventh and eighth graders have studied the natural and social history of their neighborhood, produced outstanding academic work, inspired pride in their community and visions for its future. The school's principal and teachers are very excited about the prospect of expanding this program to include MIT students.

There will be one field trip to Philadelphia during the semester.

For background on the project see the WPLP website, especially the section on Sulzberger Middle School and summary of the Mill Creek Project.

A knowledge of web-authoring and geographic information systems (GIS) is not a prerequisite this year, but is highly desirable.

Course Format

The course meets once a week in workshop sessions at MIT. There will be online sessions with students at Sulzberger Middle School outside class time, and a field trip to Philadelphia. The SMS students we will be working with attend an after-school computer program on weekdays and Saturdays. They know web-authoring and have used ArcView®.

Course Requirements

Your work for the semester will be evaluated in four ways:

Participation in Class 20%
A Journal, to be turned in weekly via Email 30%
A Proposal for a Project 10%
The Project itself 40%

Ongoing work and the final project will be posted online. There will be no final exam.