Critical Conservation: Urban Cultural Ecologies of Progressive Places

Critical Conservation seeks to disentangle the complex web of 19th c. elite values of historic preservation and 20th c. mass-culture strategies that together complicate 21st c. urban issues. Progressive places that address issues involving social policies, lifestyle, design, regulation, investment are not created by federally imposed standards or the mobocracy of advocacy groups. They require understanding of 1) underlying cultural systems of values, both embedded and temporal; 2) cultural ideas of progress and responses to change and 3) new cultural issues such urban resiliency and sustainability to shape an equitable city. This seminar will provide a foundation to understand the network of cultural systems—an urban cultural ecology as it were—that embodies the dynamic and contested inter-relationships between parts of the urban system that are context dependent. Participants will gain understanding of historical foundations and contemporary issues and learn to use the tools necessary to research and analyze the cultural landscape of a place as a component for design or other actions.

The format is a seminar that will focus on three critical periods that shape the contemporary context. In chronological order these are the age of the monoculture: construction of authenticity and a dominant hegemony; second, the age of the dialectic: grappling with a world in flux and ideas of progress and finally today’s Media Age: seeking an equitable, sustainable urban realm fueled by technological advances, pluralism, social media, temporality and simultaneity. These issues will be addressed through lectures, readings, discussion and debate.

Hands-on research about a specific place selected by the student (thesis explorations welcome) will be developed in small stages throughout the semester so that each student learns critical research methods and the use of empirical data that can be applied to negotiating cultural issues aimed at creating progressive places. The semester will end with propositions to resolve cultural conflicts through design strategies for a project in each student’s discipline—for instance, design propositions and/or written papers. The seminar’s research data and projects are part of the Harvard Research Dataverse Network available on the Francis Loeb Library website: “MDes Research Dataverse.”

No pre-requisites. Evaluation based on attendance, participation and assignments.