Ecological Urbanism weds the theory and practice of city design and planning, as a means of adaptation, with the insights of ecology (the study of the relationships among living organisms and their environment and the processes that shape both) and other environmental disciplines. Ecological urbanism is critical to the future of the city and its design: it provides a framework for addressing challenges that threaten humanity, such as climate change, rising sea level, declining oil reserves, rising energy demands, and environmental and social justice, while fulfilling human needs for health, safety, and welfare, meaning and delight.

Green Gentrification: Dilemma and Solutions

This year, the class will focus on "green" gentrification, a process whereby public investment in green infrastructure and other environmental improvements in low-income neighborhoods attracts wealthier residents and leads to speculation, increase in property values, and displacement of low-income residents. We will seek solutions to the dilemma: how to improve a place and, simultaneously, protect the long-term tenure of low-income residents.

Green gentrification is happening across the US, but we will concentrate on Philadelphia, where Green City, Clean Waters, a landmark green infrastructure program, may threaten low-income communities. After more than a half century of redlining and disinvestment, capital is flowing into West Philadelphia's low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhoods, and owners are losing their homes through predatory lending (reverse-redlining) and unscrupulous practices of aggressive speculators. This private investment is happening simultaneously with public investment in green infrastructure projects designed to improve environmental quality and provide local amenities, projects that are seen by low-income residents as a signal that invites wealthier newcomers. These neighborhoods are in dire need of investment, but how can this be accomplished without displacing families who have made their homes there for generations.

Working with community partners, the class will develop an action plan to address this crisis: a plan for public investment in green infrastructure, which simultaneously protects the tenure of current residents. The class will build on more than three decades of action research in the West Philadelphia Landscape Project and the experience of local community activists. We will make at least three field trips to West Philadelphia with local residents and public officials as guides, using a combination of Zoom and Google Street View.

We will begin the semester with a brief overview of the historical and ecological context for the catastrophe that is facing low-income homeowners in the face of "green" gentrification and rampant property speculation, followed by a review of programs that Philadelphia and other cities have developed to address this problem. Finally, we will propose a plan for action in the Mill Creek neighborhood, where Rebuild Philadelphia plans to implement a major green infrastructure project that will combine stormwater detention and recreation. This site has historic importance: it is on the buried floodplain of Mill Creek, where, in 1961, a cave-in along the Mill Creek sewer killed several people and resulted in the destruction of 111 homes. Planning for this project will begin this spring, and class proposals will be presented to Rebuild Philadelphia.

Student work will be evaluated in four ways: class attendance and contribution to discussions (15% of final grade); the weekly journal (20%); a case (15%); the final proposal, presented and posted on class website 50%).

Please refer to MIT's policy on academic integrity. Students with documented disabilities or any other problem that may affect ability to perform in class should see me early in the semester so arrangements may be made for accommodation. For more information on academic accommodation, see MIT's Division of Student Life.

Enrollment is limited to fourteen students.