Self & World: The Fate of the City

July 7, 2009

A syllabus at its best is a contract between the instructor, who commits to using cutting-edge knowledge to challenge students to develop their potential for personal insight and high capacity performance, and each individual student, who commits to stretching herself or himself intellectually and remaining open to what reflective enlightenment this world may offer.

Course Description:

This course explores the balance in American life between personal happiness and civic virtue, individual freedom and community responsibilities, market capitalism and social justice, and consumerism and citizenship. The implications of these democratic (im)balances for our communities and ourselves in the 21st Century will be examined through the spatial lens of the decline of the city, the rise of suburban sprawl, and the potential for recovery of urban community. Macon will be our local case study in the civic arts and civilization, with Charleston, SC as a point of comparison. The course will require a team-based service-learning project.

You are finishing your careers as undergraduates at Mercer. This course is intended to help you reflect on the studies of the past few years and to think cogently and critically about issues that will affect you for the rest of your lives. You will bring to bear the knowledge and insight gained through your major subjects, as well as other academic and personal experiences, and through your fresh reading of the required texts. This is not a lecture course that seeks to provide right or wrong answers to the questions raised. Rather, you yourselves and the several other teachers and professionals involved in the course as guest speakers and mentors will be the primary instructors. My task is to guide you through some of the material, to keep the discussions focused and productive, and to serve as a resource for your service-learning projects. I am looking forward to a rich experience for all of us.

Course Objectives:

  1. To understand the scope and complexity of the issues facing urban civilization in the 21st Century as a built environment and as a social, political, economic, aesthetic, and spiritual way of life, with a particular focus on the American city.
  2. To read critically and interpret texts related to these issues.
  3. To enhance research, analytical, interpretive, oral, writing, presentational, and collaborative skills.
  4. To work together successfully in circumstances that mirror the demands and expectations of post-graduate study and professional practice.
  5. To produce for key decision makers in Macon, Georgia, an analysis of Macon’s attractiveness as a destination for knowledge workers and strategies for enhancing that attractiveness.

Required Texts:

The Urban Reader (3rd edition), ed. LeGates & Stout
Richard Florida The Rise of the Creative Class
On Reserve:
Grace Paley The Collected Stories
John Cheever The Stories of John Cheever
Edward P. Jones Lost in the City: Stories

Attendance and Participation:

The success of a discussion class of this type depends on the active presence and prepared participation of all students. The degree and quality of your participation will determine roughly 1/3 of your final grade.

Since there is only one class meeting per week, you may not miss more than two classes for whatever reason. Exceptions may be made for University business, such as debate team, sports, Mercer Ambassadors, etc., but you still must clear these absences with me ahead of time. Each absence beyond the second one will reduce your final grade by one full letter grade.

Class Sessions:

Each class session will typically be divided into three distinct activities.

1. Class will begin with the analysis of the assigned readings from The Urban Reader. This discussion will be conducted on the model of law school classes. Each student will be expected to be able to answer any of the following questions: What is the author’s main point? What are two considerations given in support of it? What is one important secondary point made by this author? What is one consideration given in support of it? What is one critical question you would raise about the author’s argument? Why? I will conduct the examination of the subject by calling on students or asking for volunteers to answer these and other questions. Every student should also be prepared to explain why he or she agrees or disagrees with another student’s previous answer. Over the course of the semester, every student will have a number of opportunities to respond in class.

2. The second period of the class will focus either on a guest speaker, with a question and answer session following, or on short stories by the three authors on reserve at the library, with a student led discussion. Every student will have an opportunity to lead a discussion (sometimes as a team of two). Discussion should be Great Books style with the discussion leaders prepared with two opening questions to help start discussion and lead it deeply into the story.

3. The third period of the class will be devoted to the service-learning project, with teams working together to present their work as it develops.

Site Visit to Charleston, SC:

Each service-learning team will select two members to participate in a site visit to Charleston SC to interview professionals who are responsible for aspects of Charleston’s urban design and development and to analyze Charleston’s urban fabric and social history. Charleston is recognized as an exceptional example of urban renaissance. We want to know why and how it declined and recovered—and we want to bring back possible lessons learned for Macon.

The site visit will take place over fall break from Sunday, Oct. 8 through Tuesday, Oct. 10. All expenses for this site visit will be covered.


You will write five short papers (2-3 pages) during the semester. These papers will be part of the electronic portfolio that reflects your understanding of and response to the texts, speakers, experiences, and issues of the course. They may take the form of analytic essays, critical responses, self-reflections, or summary statements. The five papers in your portfolio should reflect your best thinking and writing for the course. Two papers are due by September 29 and three additional papers are due by November 29. The earlier you submit these papers, the sooner you will have feedback from me as to their strengths and weaknesses. You will be allowed to substitute one additional paper for one of your submitted papers if you wish to improve a grade.

Service-Learning Project:

Service-Learning is a reciprocal exchange. Students should benefit by applying their knowledge and skills in a way that meets a community need. The student must benefit, and the community must benefit.

The service-learning project for this course will be set up as if we were a consulting firm working with urban communities to increase their competitiveness as good places to live, work, play, and raise children. The “firm” has three consulting teams who will each work with a different local client to analyze the competitiveness of the local community and to propose a strategy to improve that competitiveness. Each team will focus on Macon, but each team must satisfy a different client. The three clients are the City of Macon’s Economic and Community Development Department, NewTown Macon, Inc. (a nonprofit organization charged with revitalizing downtown Macon), and the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. Minimal deliverables for the client will include a 10-15 page report and a Powerpoint presentation of the report. You must negotiate the time and venue for your presentation to the client at their convenience—but, in any case, before the close of business December 15.

The service-learning project will determine roughly 1/3 of your final grade.

Final Exam:

As the course progresses, we will identify key urban issues. These issues will be posted as they are identified and articulated. (These issues are one possible topic for your papers in your portfolios.)

For your final exam, you will be given a choice of three issues. You will write a 750-1250 word essay on one of them during the exam period, accompanied by a 75-word abstract. The exam must be a typed, finished product. During the exam period, you will be free to write your essay at the location you choose—but you will be limited to the 3-hour block of time to complete it.

Criteria for Grading: Grading Scale:
Portfolio 30% A 90-106 points
Final Exam 10% B+ 86-89
Participation 30% B 80-85
Service-learning Project 30% C+ 76-79
C 70-75
D+ 66-69
D 60-65

School: Mercer University
Professor: Dr. Peter C. Brown
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