Course Syllabus

Adam Lubinsky, PH.D., AICP

MS Urban Planning


300 Buell South, Wed. 6-8pm

Columbia GSAPP


”Practicum: Planning and Mega Projects in Global Cities”

Fall 2018


  1. Course Overview

This course is intended to examine the governance, political economic and planning process issues across three global cities – New York City, London and Cape Town. These aspects will be viewed through case studies associated with mega projects, school planning, and transportation.  The intention is to consider the issues around large-scale projects from the perspectives of both practical planning procedures and the broader systemic shift they represent.

On a paradigmatic level, the provision of housing and infrastructure has changed over the last century. Public housing, as provided by municipal or national governments, is rarely being developed is and is more frequently being transferred into private management. Models for affordable housing provision have increasingly looked to the private market, often leveraging subsidies provided by market-rate housing. Infrastructure provision - whether it be roads, subways, broadband or schools – is being developed in conjunction with private entities or sometimes entirely under the control of private entities.

The shift away from centralized modernist planning to a more neoliberal approach to housing and infrastructure provision has led to concerns, as described by urbanists such as Manuel Castells, Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin, of cities with separated enclaves and “splintering urbanisms.”

In the last 20 years, the increased demand for affordable housing and infrastructure combined with rising land values has fostered the emergence of private mixed use mega-projects in many global cities. Developers with enormous reservoirs of capital and the capacity for complex construction efforts have been working with municipal governments to build on large sites thousands of new homes with portions that include “affordable” apartments, subway line extensions, schools, parks and even power stations.

As we pursue this course of study, students will be asked to consider the following critical questions:

  • How is private capital influencing the location, delivery and approach to development, and consequently, broader land use patterns and infrastructure provision?
  • How are municipal governments and planners facilitating the new developments through policy and negotiation?
  • How does this new paradigm for delivery influence the resulting spatial plans?
  • Will these projects reinforce social inequities and establish enclaves or provide a new kind of mixed use, mixed income community that breaks more recent patterns of development?

In the first three classes, students will examine mixed use mega-projects in New York City, London, and Cape Town and their development processes. Whereas much of the preoccupation with mega-projects has been focused on large-scale public infrastructure projects, this course will look consider mega-projects that are primarily privately generated with a mix of uses incorporating large-scale residential and commercial development. Projects such as Hudson Yards in New York City, Earls Court in London, and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, will be considered. The review of these projects will assess how the developments got off the ground, including who the developers were, how issues such as site selection and land assembly, local policy-making and master planning facilitated the mega-projects, and what kind of team and disciplines were required to move these considerable planning processes forward.

In the fourth class, the students will consider the role of transportation, both in terms of the kinds of infrastructure and planning that were required to enable the mega-projects as well as a consideration of the changing nature of urban mobility. This will include a discussion of mass transit, such as the 7 train extension for Hudson Yards and the BQX in Brooklyn and Queens, and a discussion of “new mobility” such as carshare, rideshare (including informal activities such as dollar vans) and autonomous vehicles are starting to affect planning and regulatory processes.


The fifth class will focus on group student presentations of the second assignment, which will focus on a deep dive of mega-projects from around the world.


The sixth class will focus more broadly on the role of city-making and “spectacle” associated with the private mega-project. From the “Vessel” at Hudson Yards to the recently-opened Domino Park at the Domino development in Williamsburg to the “African Riviera” imagined at Cape Town’s V+A Waterfront, the open space and destinations at each of these developments may play an important part in getting projects entitled and projecting an image of transformation and new urban playgrounds that promote the development and host cities alike.


The final class will examine the planning process for mega projects and relationship to bureaucratic mechanisms and democratic procedures, including an overview of the ULURP and EIS processes and opportunities for participation.

  1. Course Goals

The objective of this course is to provide a critical and practical understanding of current development processes and planning challenges in global cities. The course will facilitate the development of analytical skills and an ability to synthesize information related to planning regulations, population change, urban policy and spatial design issues that will further the student’s understanding of global cities today and tomorrow.


  1. Course Structure

This Practicum will extend over seven (7) classes. The two-hour class will typically consist of a first hour that is a presentation and discussion. The presentation will either be given by the instructor or a guest lecturer. The second hour will be an in-class lab, which will require students to work and present the assignments. There will be three assignments over the course of the seven weeks. Students will work in groups for the first assignment, work individually on a technical assignment for the second assignment, and work individually on a short, written assignment for the final assignment. Readings will be moderate, with the focus of students on readings and research explored as part of the assignments.  


Week 1

Wednesday, October 24:             “The Emergence of Private Mixed Use Mega Projects”

  • Key themes: shifting provision of housing and infrastructure, public frameworks for private mega-projects proposals and public approval, emerging paradigm of mixed use, mixed income mega-projects
  • Presentation
  • In-class discussion and in-class preparations for Week 3 student presentations


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 2:

  • Fainstein, Susan. The City Builders: Property Development in New York and London, 1980-2000. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas, 2001. Chapter 1 pp 1-26.
  • City of New York Mayor Mayor Bill De Blasio. Housing New York. New York City: Office of the Mayor, 2013. Executive Summary pp. 5-14.
  • “Look Up, Hudson Yards”
  • Williams, Keith (2016) “The Evolution of Hudson Yards: from ‘Death Avenue’ to NYC’s Most Advanced Neighborhood,” Curbed New York. December 13, 2016.
  • Bagli, Charles. (2004) “Financing Plan to Rebuild Far West Side Is Unveiled,” The New York Times. February 12, 2004.
  • New York City Department of Planning, “Hudson Yards Overview” (
  • New York City Department of Planning, “Hudson Yards Master Plan Preferred Direction” (


Assignment 1 handed out: “Mega-Projects Compared”

  • Individual assignment to be uploaded November 7



Week 2

Wednesday, October 31:             “Mega-Projects Analyzed”

  • Key themes: inclusionary and mandatory inclusionary policies, land use, master planning, entitlement process and role of municipal agencies
  • Guest presentation: Hudson Yards, Robin Fitzgerald-Green, KPF
  • In-class discussion of Hudson Yards, NYC
  • In-class discussion and questions about Assignment 1


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 3:

  • City of New York Mayor Mayor Bill De Blasio. Housing New York. New York City: Office of the Mayor, 2013. Executive Summary pp. 5-14.
  • Beauregard, Robert and Anne Haila. (1997) “The Unavoidable Incompleteness of the City,” American Behavioral Scientist, 41(3): 327-341.
  • Graham and Simon, Splintering Urbanism. London: Routledge, 2001. Chapter and part of Chapter 3 pp. 39-105
  • Watson, Vanessa. (2003) “Planning for Integration: The Case of Metropolitan Cape Town” in Philip Harrison, Marie Huchzermeyer and Mzwanele Mayekiso (eds.) Confronting Fragmentation: Housing and Urban Development in a Democratic Society. Cape Town: UCT Press.


Week 3

Wednesday, November 7:           “The Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront and Mega-Projects”

  • Key themes: mixing industrial and residential land uses, new building typologies, resiliency planning, waterfront access, post-industrial transformation
  • Presentation
  • In-class discussion of mega-project benefits


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 4:


Assignment 1 due

Assignment 2 handed out: Mega-Projects Deep Dive

  • Group projects to be presented in class on Nov. 28 and uploaded on Nov. 28


Week 4

Wednesday, November 14:        “Mobility and Mega-Projects”

  • Key themes: provision of new transportation infrastructure, enabling linkages within the mega-project and to adjacent areas
  • Presentation
  • Short videos: (Friends of BQX) and (“Gentrification Express”)
  • In-class discussion


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 4:

  • Clark, T. N. (2011). The City as an Entertainment Machine. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books. Read Chapter 12: Amenities Drive Urban Growth: A New Paradigm and Policy Linkages, pp. 291- 322.


Week 5

Wednesday, November 28:        “Mega-Projects Presented”

  • Student presentations (Assignment 2)


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 6:

  • Ferreira, Sanette and Gustav Visser (2007) “Creating an African Riviera: Revisiting the Impact of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Development in Cape Town” in Urban Forum Issue 3: 227 - 248, Sept. 2007.


Assignment 2 is handed in.

Assignment 3 is handed out.


Week 6

Wednesday, December 5:           “The Role of Spectacle and the Mega Project”


Readings assigned for upcoming Week 7:

  • Fainstein, Susan. The Just City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 2010. Chapter 2 pp 57-86.



Week 7

Wednesday, December 12:        “Planning Processes, Bureaucratic Mechanisms and Opportunities for Democracy in the Development of Mega Projects”

  • Potential site visit: scheduling TBD
  • In-class discussion


Assignment 3 is handed in.



  1. Course Overview




Class Focus




“The Emergence of Private Mixed Use Mega Projects”


In-class discussion and lab

Assignment 1 handed out

Readings for upcoming Week 2 assigned



“Mega-Projects Analyzed”

Guest presentation

In-class discussion

Readings for upcoming Week 3 assigned



“Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront and Mega-Projects”


In-class discussion

Assignment 1 due (presentations)

Readings for upcoming Week 4 assigned

Assignment 2 handed out



“Mobility and Mega-Projects”


In-class discussion and lab

Readings for upcoming Week 5 assigned

Thanksgiving week



“Mega-Projects Presented”

Student                   presentations

Assignment 2 due and presented

Assignment 3 handed out

Readings for upcoming Week 6 assigned



“The Role of Spectacle and Mega-Projects”


In-class discussion

Readings for upcoming Week 7 assigned



“Planning Processes, Bureaucratic Mechanisms and Opportunities for Democracy in the Development of Mega Projects”



In-class discussion

Assignment 3 due



  1. Course Expectations


  1. Assignments:

A total of three (3) assignments are due over the course of the seven-week course:

One (1) group presentation, one (1) technical assignment and one (1) written response that will be assigned and graded in five (5) stages.


  1. Assessment and Grading:

Grading will be outlined for each assignment as provided, but in order to pass this course you must complete all assignments and attend class regularly.

Grades distribution for all course work as follows:

Assignment 1: Individual Assignment (due 11/14) ................................................................ 20%

Assignment 2: Group Presentation (due 11/28)       ……….……............................................ 20%

Assignment 3: Written Assignment (due 12/12)       ……………............................................ 30%

Class Participation ……………………………………...............................................................................15%

Attendance ..................................................................................................................................................15%


  1. Class Meetings and Attendance:

All course members are expected to attend all class meetings. You are permitted one (1) unexcused absence from class meetings without impacting your course grade.

If you expect to miss a class for religious observances, athletic participation or illness, please inform me in writing (e-mail is fine) ahead of time. Weather and mass transit are unpredictable and occasionally cause delay or cancellation of academic activities. In these cases, excused absences from class will be granted only if the university officially closes—if it’s open, I will be here and I expect that you will too.


Please make it your responsibility to find out what you missed. Please jot down

the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of at least two fellow students in the class. These should be people you can call to get assignments and notes if you miss class.


  1. Electronic Devices:

Cell phones, iPads, Kindles, and other electronic devices must be turned off and put away during class. Anyone who is observed text messaging will be counted absent for that day.


  1. Conferences and Office Hours:

If you need to speak with me regarding class matters, please feel free to contact me so we can set up an appointment. Please bring materials/assignments you wish to discuss with you to our conference(s). These sessions are likely to be scheduled before or after class or as a phone meeting.


  1. Students with disabilities:

In compliance with Columbia University policy and equal access laws, I am available to discuss appropriate academic accommodations that you may require as a student with a disability. Request for academic accommodations need to be made during the first two weeks of the course, except for unusual circumstances, so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Students must register with Office of Disability Services (see: or call 212 854 2388) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodation.


  1. Academic Integrity:

Academic integrity is expected of every Columbia University student in all academic undertakings. Integrity entails a firm adherence to a set of values, and the values most essential to an academic community are grounded in the concept of honesty with respect to the intellectual pursuits of oneself and others. A Columbia student’s submission of work for academic credit indicates that the work is the student’s own. All outside assistance (including assistance from a classmate, roommate, friend or family member) should be acknowledged, and the student’s academic

position truthfully reported at all times. In addition, Columbia students have a right to expect academic integrity from their peers. (For more information:


  1. Safety:

All students are expected to adhere to the specific health and safety guidelines of Columbia University.


  1. Student Responsibility for Learning:

Students must take responsibility for their own learning in this course. This means that you have to do the readings ahead of class meetings and come to class prepared to engage in discourse. While the grading rubric is presented above, effort counts a lot in this course (in all my courses, actually) and what you will ultimately take from this course will depend strongly upon the effort you put forth.


  1. Late or missed assignments:

You are expected to submit all work when it is due. Late assignments will be marked down by one letter grade.


Planning Education and

Research 24, 379–93

Planning Education and

Research 24, 379–93

Course Summary:

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