The Transformation of American Cities: Past and Present

Mark R. Yessian

Tuesdays, April 3 - May 1 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. 5 sessions
King's Chapel Parish House, 64 Beacon Street

We will begin this course with Jane Jacobs, the now legendary urban activist and planner and the author of the still-in-print 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Our entry to a review of her efforts and how she sought to shape American cities in the 1950s and 1960s will be the recent documentary, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. From that film and brief articles, we will revisit the battles she had with New York City’s development czar, Robert Moses, and gain ample grist for discussion of the kind of transformation that took place in American cities over the next two decades.

We will then turn to a noted urbanologist of our own day, Richard Florida. A big fan of Jacobs, Florida is the author of a recent book entitled The Urban Crisis. In it he argues, convincingly, that the more recent revival of major cities has had a dark side of fostering greater economic and social stratification in those cities. We will draw on one or two of his speeches as recorded on YouTube as well as on excerpts from his articles.

As we come to a close in our five-week course, we will briefly consider the  implications of these recent urban transformations for Boston. This might serve  as a beginning of a more focused inquiry on Boston in a subsequent course. 

Assigned readings will be sent to class members by email prior to each class.

Teaching Style: Seminar     Weekly Preparation: 1-2 hours


    Mark R. Yessian

    Mark R. Yessian is the president of the board of Beacon Hill Seminars. He has led a number of courses during the past nine years, typically probing American political history for insights it can provide in addressing contemporary public-policy challenges. He has a PhD in political science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, three decades of government service at the federal level, and, most importantly, an abiding curiosity about American history and governance. This course affords him an opportunity to reflect back on his early academic and consultant experience concerning the Federal Urban Renewal Program.