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City as Text

Dr. Martha Bradley-Evans' "City as Text" course in the Honors College asks students to engage in experiential learning by walking around and experiencing different places.  Students use their learning portfolios for multiple assignments, including reflecting upon and photographing their walkabouts and building their class projects.

The following reflection prompt is part of the students' class projects.


Other Examples:

modern dance workshop

global citizenship

Best Practices:

Some of the best pedagogical practices of this assignment include:

  • Integrative learning:  Asks students to draw on readings and other assignments, their own sensory and personal experiences, and social, political, or cultural issues
  • Reflection:  This assignment scaffolds reflective questions in a way that leads up to the more advanced concept of reflection on choice, or asking students to deliberate on their selection of a site and creating a narrative around that choice
  • Introduces opportunities for multimedia in a structured way by clearly asking students to record their site on camera and finding maps, photographs, and other documents

Reflection Prompt:

Find a place in the greater Salt Lake Valley that you find compelling, that raises intriguing questions and that will have a certain richness of physical, social, historical and cultural realities for you to study.  You are choosing the primary text you will study through this semester in “City as Text.”   Visit it often as you study and try to understand it.   Bring your camera or sketchbook.  Find maps and photographs.  Use whatever means you can to dig deeper than the surface and understand and interpret this site.

Choose a site. 

Your first step is straightforward but critical.  It is the most important move that you will make in this project.  Choose a place that provokes questions for you and that is interesting enough that you will want to keep studying it for the rest of the semester.  In the spirit of City as Text, this place will be the central text you will be “reading” through a series of analytical approaches to better understand our city. 

This assignment asks you to do a close read of your site in the same way you might do a critical read of a written text.  Think about the method you use to read a poem, an essay or novel when you are in school or for your own pleasure.  You read it closely to enjoy the words, but also to see what it did, what it said, and what it meant.  Not all that different to reading a visual text. 

Describe it.

Once you have the site chosen and a pretty good idea about what questions are most intriguing, start to describe it.

Pay attention to details, take care in description, and consider how it exists on its own or connects to other spaces.  You should take at least 800 words or 2-3 double spaced pages to carefully describe your site.   Describe where your site begins and ends, what seems most important about it and what less so, its social uses and natural processes.  Try to capture its essence with perfect words.  ***Use your reading, “How to Read a City,” as your guide. The best site will make you think about it long after you leave it.

Where is your site?  How do you define the boundaries of where your site begins and ends? You can’t study the whole city all at once, so choose a manageable site and think about where you think it begins or ends.

What elements make it an interesting site to study?   Is it the geography?  Is it the persons in or around it? The built forms or systems?

How is your site used and who uses it?  What kinds of natural or human built features are located on the site?  How would you describe the vegetation, the buildings, the street systems where it is located, the way sun or shade moves across it?

Be alert to as much sensorial information as possible (use your five senses to experience it).  Notice and record the nature of the landscape or built scape around you.  Are the blocks made up of buildings or parking lots?  Are the buildings four stories high or twenty? How far are they set back from the street or what kind of space is in-between?  Does it feel like this space is densely built or open?  Do certain businesses or institutions dominate or define the street?  Is there much activity on the street?  Do the buildings stop at the sidewalk or are there yards, porches and so forth?

Describe the Central Question your Site Inspires. 

Your choice of site should be one that is physically, socially and culturally interesting which means you will have a lot to work with in your analysis. 

This list includes examples of particular sites and the questions they might provoke.

Your group can choose to study one of the following issues or propose a new issue that you find more intriguing and rich.

  1. The impact of the Gateway on the Westside
  2. The revitalization of Main Street, or, the impact of City Creek on downtown
  3. The impact of Main Street Plaza on the surrounding blocks
  4. The “Geography of Nowhere” or strip malls with franchise businesses such as those along 4th South—what is the impact of such places on a city?
  5. Transportation systems—is it really possible for citizens in the city to rely on public transportation?  Where are the gaps? What might be the incentives to use public transportation? What would be the impact on the valley?
  6. Analyze the system of light rail stops—which ones effectively engage users and interact most fully with surrounding neighborhoods?
  7. Analyze a particularly effective pedestrian street—what makes it work?  What makes it interesting? What makes other blocks fail to attract people, or what doesn’t work in other places? (You might do a compare and contrast)
  8. Analyze 13th East between 2nd South and 3rd South

Each of these examples includes a physical place, a set of social, political or cultural issues, good research materials (maps, photographs, newspaper articles, interviews), and the potential of a rich project.

Organize your two-page description around what you find most compelling and engaging about the site.  In some ways, this is the set up for the rest of the work you will do around this site through the semester, so take this part of the class project seriously.  Our in-class discussions, presentations, walkabouts will enhance what you start to see or understand about your site.

Last Updated: 3/22/21