Designing Cities

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Course Date: 14 September 2014 to 23 November 2014 (10 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

The course explores visionary and practical concepts of city design and planning, past and present, and how design can address such looming challenges as urban population growth, climate change and rising sea levels. Participants will be encouraged to make proposals for city design and development, starting with their own immediate environment.

Estimated Workload: 4-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Gary Hack

Gary Hack is professor emeritus of urban design in the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania.  From 1996-2008 he served as dean of the School and is a former chairman of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.  He practices and writes about large scale urban design, and has prepared plans for over 40 cities in the US and abroad.


Before joining Penn, he was professor of urban design at MIT and served as chair of the department of urban studies and planning.   Professionally, he was principal in the firm, Carr, Lynch, Hack and Sandell.  Through his firm he directed the planning of the West Side waterfront in New York City, which involved the reconstruction of the West Side highway as an urban boulevard, and 4.5 miles of parks and promenades adjacent to it.  It required extensive involvement of over 70 groups over a five year period.  Construction of the system of parks and pier reclamation is currently nearing completion. 


Also in New York, he was principal in charge of the design and construction of Rockefeller Park at Battery Park City, an 8.5 acre park that serves as the key open space in Lower Manhattan.  It was designed through close consultation with the area’s residents, and has been voted the most loved park in Manhattan.  The park served as the prototype for the parks along the West Side Waterfront. 


Gary Hack also served as principal urban designer for many projects, including:  the planning of the East Riverfront in Detroit; the urban design of the Hwa Shan cultural district in the center of Taipei, Taiwan; the urban design and planning of the redevelopment of Prudential Center in Boston.  He was a member of the Studio Libeskind team that won the competition for the World Trade Center redevelopment in New York, and participated in the preparation of the urban design guidelines for the project. He headed the team that prepared The Bangkok Plan, a strategic plan for development of the city.  


In the 1970’s Gary Hack served as general manager for development and demonstration projects of CMHC and the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs in Ottawa.  In that capacity, he oversaw the planning of Harbourfront in Toronto, the Vieux Port in Montreal, the Vieux Port in Quebec City, Market Square in St John, NB, and other projects across Canada. 


He is the author of several books on urban development, including Local Planning (with Eugenie Birch, Paul Sedway and Mitchell Silver), Site Planning, the standard text in the field (with Kevin Lynch), Global City Regions (with Roger Simmonds), Urban Design in a Global Context (with Zhongjie Lin), and Local Planning (with others).  .


He was educated in architecture at the University of Manitoba (B.Arch ’64) and University of Illinois (M.Arch 66), and in planning at the University of Illinois (MUP ’67) and at MIT, where he received his PhD in 1976.  He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Dalhousie University in 2006.

Jonathan Barnett

Jonathan Barnett, FAIA, FAICP

 Jonathan Barnett is one of the pioneers of the modern practice of city design, a discipline firmly grounded in current political, social and economic realities.

 As the director of the graduate urban design program at the University of Pennsylvania, before that as the director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at the City College of New York, and as a visiting professor, critic or lecturer at many other universities, Jonathan Barnett has helped educate more than a generation of city designers.

 He worked in the reform administration of Mayor John Lindsay when New York City first had an institutional commitment to city design. His account of innovations created in New York, Urban Design as Public Policy, was a strong influence in establishing urban design as a necessary element of local government and in making city design a well-recognized profession.

 Jonathan Barnett has written many books, book chapters, and articles about city design. In his most recent book, City Design: Modernist, Traditional, Green, and Systems Perspectives, Barnett explores the history and current practice of the four most important ways of designing cities, and suggests a fifth way which draws on all four approaches.

 Jonathan Barnett has also developed his own extensive consulting practice as a city-designer, with long-term consulting relationships with the cities of Charleston, S.C., Cleveland, Kansas City, Nashville, Norfolk, Miami, Omaha, and Pittsburgh, and with the cities of Xiamen and Tianjin in China. He has also been the urban design advisor for two planned communities in Cambodia, and for several large-scale projects in Korea,

 Currently he is interested in projects that involve controlling growth at the suburban fringe and in redeveloping by-passed areas in the older parts of metropolitan regions, and has worked on growth management plans for suburban communities in Missouri, Wisconsin, and New York State, and on the redesign of several former railway yards and military bases.

 With his students at the University of Pennsylvania, Jonathan Barnett has prepared growth management studies for central Florida, done research into the potential effects of sea-level rise in the Delaware River Basin and the New Jersey Shore, and has demonstrated methods of incorporating Geographic Information Systems into development regulations in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

 Jonathan Barnett is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Yale College, and has a Master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Cambridge, and a Master of Architecture from the Yale School of Architecture.  He is a fellow of both the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Stefan Al

Stefan Al is a Dutch architect, urban designer, and Associate Professor of Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania.

His research interests include urban form and evolution, and urbanization in rapidly urbanizing countries. His design practice is dedicated to sustainable architecture and urban design.

In an international career to date, Al has worked on renowned architectural projects such as the 2,000-feet high Canton Tower in Guangzhou, the preservation of world heritage in Latin America at the World Heritage Center of UNESCO, and an 11,000-acre new eco-friendly city in India.

His writing has been published in the Handbook of Architectural Theory, the Berkeley Planning Journal, and other publications. He has edited the books Factory Towns of South China and Village in the City (forthcoming 2013), and is currently writing a book on Las Vegas called The Strip.

Al is an EU-licensed architect and a LEED Accredited Professional. He serves as a founding member of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design, a co-opted member of Hong Kong's Harbourfront Commission, and as a task force member of Hong Kong's Environment Bureau.

Prior to joining Penn, Al has taught at UC Berkeley and the University of Hong Kong, where he was the director of the Urban Design Program.

Course Description

Designing Cities is a ten-week course starting in October 2013.  Every week will focus on a different aspect of Designing Cities including: How Today’s City Evolved; The Ideas That Shape Cities; Tools for Designing Cities; Making Cities Sustainable; Cities in the Information Age; Preserving Older Cities; Designing New Cities, Districts and Neighborhoods; The Challenges of Informal Cities and Disadvantaged Neighborhoods; and Visionary Cities.  Materials will be presented by the instructors and guest faculty from PennDesign through a series of five or more modules per week, each typically 10-12 minutes long.   

The first module each week will be a roundtable discussion among professors Stefan Al, Jonathan Barnett, and Gary Hack introducing the big issues associated with the subject.  Each succeeding module will be a self-contained illustrated presentation of a set of ideas and images. There will be a list of suggested readings for those who wish to follow up on the ideas in each module.

Everyone enrolled in Designing Cities will be expected to complete 3 assignments.  These will be posted on the course site and they will be in the form of peer assessments. There will also be three sessions where we discuss a selection of the assignments that have been submitted. There will be a great deal to be learned from the ideas participants submit, reflecting cities of all sizes and circumstances across the globe.

The course concludes with a discussion by the faculty of the issues raised in the discussion groups and responses to the assignments. We are looking forward to connecting with you and seeing the issues at the forefront in designing your city.  


Do I have to do the assignments?  Browsers are welcome but there is much to be gained by applying the ideas of the course to your city, and both getting and giving feedback on the three assignments.

Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing the course?  Yes, students who successfully complete the the three assignments and give feedback to others will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors.

What resources will I need for this course?  An internet connection, of course. A computer that is equipped to create .pdf files with images and text.  A digital camera (or phone with a camera) for taking photos of your city and any sketches or drawings you make. You need not be skilled in drawing -- rough sketches are fine.  A map of your city will help others understand the areas you are talking about.

What will I take away from the course?  A vocabulary for talking about design of cities.  Knowledge of design ideas that have been tried over the years, and their results.  Understandings of how cities differ across the globe.  Understanding of the kinds of challenges that will be faced in designing cities over the next couple of decades.  

Will the instructors actually see the materials I submit?  We have scheduled three sessions to show and comment on some of the most interesting of the assignments submitted, and will have a way that peer reviewers can spotlight those we should review.  If the enrollments are very large, it won't be possible for us to review every assignment submitted in time for the three sessions.  But the value of the assignments is in helping you think about design issues in your city. 

For more information on Penn’s Open Learning initiative, please go to:


This is a ten-week course which requires completion of three assignments. The instructors will select some of the assignments submitted and discuss them as part of the course.

Each week’s modules will be introduced by a discussion by all three instructors.

Week 1: How Today’s City Evolved

  • Introductory Discussion
  • The Pre-Industrial City
  • Cities in the Industrial Revolution
  • Cities in 1950
  • Today’s Regional City 

Week 2:  Ideas That Shape Cities

  • Introductory Discussion
  • Modernist City Design 
  • Traditional City Design 
  • Green City Design
  • Systems City Design

Week 3: Tools for Designing Cities

  • Introductory Discussion
  • Investments in Infrastructure 
  • Codes and Design Guidelines
  • Incentives for Better City Design
  • Negotiation for Common Goods 
  • Discussion by the instructors about selected submissions for the first assignment

Week 4:  Making Cities Sustainable

  • Introductory Discussion  
  • Ecological Urbanism
  • Transportation as the Growth Armature
  • Managing Water: Flooding and Scarcity 
  • Green Infrastructure and Renewable Energy
Week 5: Cities in the Information Age

  • Introductory Discussion
  • Managing Energy Consumption 
  • Intelligent Cities 
  • Spatial Patterns that Promote Personal Communication 
  • Mixing Home, Work, Culture and Recreation 

Week 6:  Preserving Older Cities

  • Introductory Discussion
  • Landmarks and Historic Districts 
  • Adaptive Re-Use of Old Buildings 
  • Preserving the Industrial Heritage 
  • Discussion by the instructors about selected submissions for the second assignment

Week 7: Designing New Cities, Districts and Neighborhoods

  • Introductory Discussion and the Third Assignment
  • The Idea of New Towns and Cities
  • Urban Form of New Places
  • The Public Realm – Streets, Parks and Places
  • Walkable Neighborhoods and Business Centers 

Week 8:  The Challenges of Informal Cities and Disadvantaged Neighborhoods 

  • Introductory Discussion 
  • Rapid Urbanization and Informal Settlements (David Gouverneur)
  • Land Tenure and Stability 
  • Retrofitting Infrastructure and Services 
  • Combating Poverty and Urban Deterioration 

Week 9:  Visionary Cities 

  • Introductory Discussion
  • Technological Visions
  • Ecological Visions 
  • Revolutionary Visions 
  • The Self-Organizing City 

Week 10:  Concluding Comments

  • Discussion by the three instructors of selected submissions for the third assignment
  • Concluding Remarks


The basic components of the course are:  content modules, as shown in the syllabus; three assignments, required for those who wish to receive a statement of accomplishment, and encouraged for all; participation in peer critiques of assignments; suggested readings that go beyond the materials in the modules.  

Course Workload

4-6 hours/week

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