Course Syllabus

Resilience, Reparations and the Green New Deal: Climate Justice in Our Own Backyard


GSAPP Planning Practicum - Fall 2020

Thaddeus Pawlowski with invited guests

Tuesdays 5:00-7:00 PM, Office Hours by Appointment

All course activities on ZOOM




Learning Objective

In this practicum we will learn about the impacts of environmental racism and climate change in the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia University.   We will also learn from Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton’s When Ivory Towers Were Black about Columbia GSAPP’s early experiments with community-driven design and planning, and engage in a critical and proactive discourse on how we--as students and faculty of GSAPP today--can better promote climate justice in our own backyard.   We will develop oral and visual communication tools necessary to promote this work.



Throughout the course we will learn from environmental justice leaders, including high school students from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). These students and their teachers have conceived a “Clean Air, Green Corridor on 182nd Street.”  We will offer them support as they develop an implementation strategy through formal planning processes including community engagement strategy, urban design and environmental analyses, community-driven design, funding/financing, public approvals, and operations/maintenance. Along the way we will examine how existing systems, such as ULURP and Environmental Review, might be reimagined to better serve this kind of transformational project, as a model for Green New Deal projects. 

Assignments and Coursework

We will work toward a final presentation in collaboration with students from the WHEELS academy.  With each assignment, we will add content to an open google slide presentation shared without partners.   Grading will be based on contributions to this collective effort, including participation in a series of virtual workshops throughout the semester.   Students are also expected to read and reflect on the course content, and are encouraged to bring their own suggestions for reading, watching, and exploring the themes of this course. 


NOTE:  This syllabus humbly takes guidance from Black Faculty of Columbia GSAPP’s letter on Unlearning Whiteness and from ON THE FUTILITY OF LISTENING, a statement from the Black Student Alliance.  It also draws on resources compiled in the Space/Race reading list   Schedule, readings and assignments will be subject to minor alterations, during the course of the semester to accommodate partner schedules. 


Week 1 

September 8


  • Opinion | I’m Sick of Asking Children to Be Resilient
  • Assignment 1:  Take a walk in a location of your choice and reflect on the legacy of past planning decisions that have resulted in some environmental or social  harm, such as dislocation, pollution, or cultural erasure.  Upload photographic evidence of this decision.  Also, find some piece of street art that responds to our current crises including climate change, racism, or the pandemic.

Week 2 

September 15

**CLIMATE JUSTICE IN WASHINGTON HEIGHTS** with Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, WeACT and WHEELS

(** indicates classes shared with WHEELS)

  • an op-ed the student leaders wrote about the Clean Air, Green Corridor work and climate justice 
  • This is a video in which student, Diane Arravelo, narrates the vision for the Corridor
  • Assignment 2:  Choose a case study of a recently-created public space.  Make a slide of the basic facts of its construction: who, what, where, when, how, why and for whom?  Possible case studies include the Highline, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the West Harlem Piers, and Diversity Plaza in Queens.  These case studies will be used as reference points throughout the semester.  Recent NYC case studies are preferred because it will be easier to find first hand sources and make site visits.   

Week 3

September 22


  • Bullard, Robert D. “Environmental Justice for All” in edited by Robert D. Bullard, Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1994), pp. 3-22.
  • Bullard, Robert D. “Anatomy of Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement,” in edited by Robert D. Bullard, Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1993), pp. 15-40.
  • Pellow, David N. 2016. “Toward a Critical Environmental Studies: Black Lives Matter as an Environmental Justice Challenge.” DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race. TOWARD A CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE STUDIES Black Lives Matter as an Environmental Justice Challenge
  • Assignment 3A:  How did the perception of place and it’s people  inform your case study project?  What kinds of site analyses were completed?  How would it look like if site analysis were based on the principles of environmental justice?   
  • Assignment 3B:  Working in groups, develop a site analysis template.  Can this template help to shape a community based approach to project development?

Week 4

September 29


  • Using the site analysis templates, students will conduct a block by block site analysis workshop.  This site analysis will drive subsequent design development.   



October 3



  • In partnership with the AIA-NY, the Center for Architecture, GSAPP and WHEELS students are invited to facilitate a half/day virtual workshop/  Professional architects and city officials will join students in the generation of design concepts.

Week 5

October 5


  • What does design look like when it is centered on the community?  How can investments in the public realm avoid accelerating gentrification and displacement, and instead provide greater economic opportunity for the people there today?
  •  The White-Savior Industrial Complex

Week 6

October 13


  • Klein, Naomi.  On Fire, the (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. London: Allen Lane 2019, selected chapters
  • Assignment 4A: How was your case study project funded and financed?  Make a “source and uses” diagram.
  • Assignment 4B:  work in groups to create conceptual budgets for the elements of the corridor.  What are the major costs and potential sources of funding.  How would Naomi Klein fund the corridor?

Week 7

October 20


  • Students facilitate a  workshop to match sources and uses of funding. Students are encouraged to think beyond the status quo, neo-liberal models of “public private partnership,” philanthropy, and top-down government programs.

Week 8

October 27

THE STORY OF PINHOOK with Dr. Todd Lawrence

  • Lawrence, David Todd and Elaine J. Lawless, When They Blew the Levee: Race, Politics, and Community in Pinhook, Missouri. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018, selected pages
  • Assignment 5A: Describe the public approvals in your case study project.
  • Assignment 5B: work in groups to develop a public approvals timeline.  Students are encouraged to consider both the current formal processes such as ULURP and consider alternatives that center community action.   

Nov 3

Election Day


Week 9

November 10


  • Students facilitate a workshop to create public outreach and political action campaigns.  
  • Assignment 5:  who will steward the corridor?  Work in groups to develop an operational plan and budget.  How many and what types of jobs will be created?  Are there sources of revenue that can offset the cost?

Week 10

November 17


  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi, “The Case for Reparations." The Atlantic 313, no. 5 (2014): 54-71
  • Fullilove, Mindi. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It. New Village Press, 2016.

Week 11

November 24


  • Students will facilitate a workshop to develop a long-range operational plan for the corridor

Week 12

December 1


  • Sutton, Sharon Egretta. When Ivory Towers Were Black: A Story About Race in America’s Cities and Universities. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017.

Week 13

December 8


Additional Suggested Readings


Course Summary:

Date Details Due