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Sensing Place

Tenn Joe Lim

In our class we explored the ways cities are built, used and changed by both policy makers and popular movements. Using New York City as the primary case study, we looked at the city as a dynamic and disputed space: a place where social, political, environmental and ideological differences are expressed in both the formal political sphere and in the politics of everyday life.

This Urban Studies 101 course fulfills a Hunter Common Core requirement – as a result my students come from a range of academic disciplines. Sensitive to this context, the course is designed to recognize multiple ways we can approach learning the city. The goal is to consider the politics of everyday life and for students to understand that they navigate the city as knowledge producers. As a result, the course approached these topics of urban studies in a multi-sensorial manner. Through the help of different forms of literature and activities such as readings, music, and film, we paid close attention to our sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound and ground them in a series of critical theory and insights to navigate how our cities came to be the way we experience them.

Hence, the assignments are structured to offer them the opportunity to recognize and apply what they have learnt in class to their daily lives. Originally, what was initially planned, is to have 3 assignments – a visual assignment, a sense-of-their-choosing assignment, and an artifact – that would be mapped out in New York City. The goal I hope is to expand our understanding of where information, history, or “knowledge” of the city can be sourced, and for students to try research and documentary practices of the city. The artifact assignment doubles as a public speaking exercise and a low stake assignment to find materials and places they would like to explore in their larger visual and sound assignments. I’ve assigned them in a group of 6 – so while each person is responsible for their own presentation, they don’t have to present alone. I believe the presentations help foster a sense of community in the classroom and expands the notion of what of the city is worth paying attention to.

The pandemic and social distancing measures meant that our lessons and assignments had to be redesigned.  Many of my students were still heading into work, and so as a way to ease student’s workload, I gave them two options either to document what they see in their windows or to “travel” via the internet. It acted as a foil to the place-based visual assignment they had to do, of which they are instructed they need to be physically present at the location of their choice.

I’m very happy and proud of the work my students have produced. I am hoping to integrate a more group-based approach to some of these assignments to allow for more collaborative efforts!

artifacts presentation -> visual assignment -> final assignment