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School of Environment, Education and Development

Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
BSc Geography with International Study

Study a course tailored to you at the university ranked fourth in the UK for Geography (Guardian University Guide).

BSc Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
North American Cities - Change and Continuity in the Metropolis

Unit code GEOG20552
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


North American cities matter to most of us.  Chicago and Los Angeles were the theoretical cornerstones for the majority of Western urban theory over the course of the twentieth century.  Fieldwork done in those cities – the 1920s and 1930s in Chicago, the 1980s and 1990s in Los Angeles – became the basis on which to theorize wider urban transformations, in North America and beyond.  While the twenty first century will see urbanization in the global south as never before, and hence, all urban theories generated in the cities of the global north under ever greater scrutiny, the work of the Chicago School and the LA School continues to be important theoretical reference points for case study work done elsewhere in the world.  However, it is not just urban theorists who are interested in North American cities.  Policy makers of various sorts have been drawn to them.  Whether it is the zero tolerance experimentation of New York in the 1990s, the waterfront redevelopment of Baltimore and Boston of the 1980s, the architectural style of Vancouver since the early 2000s, or the sustainable planning of Portland since the 1980s, those making urban policy in the UK – and further afield – often look to learn from the experiences of their North American counterparts. Consultants, government ministers and think tankers have shuttled back and forth to North American cities over the last forty years or so, studying what appears ‘to work’ and seeking to translate it in something that can be introduced into the UK.  And, of course, most of us think we know North American cities because of their appearance on the films and the television shows we watch and the music to which we listen.  Let’s just take those shows that appear on our televisions.  Think of The Wire in Baltimore, Friends, Law & Order, Seinfeld, Sex in the City, and Without a Trace to name but a few in New York (as well as ones such as Cagney & Lacey, Kojak and Taxi which aired before most of you were born!), Frasier in Seattle, Ally McBeal and Cheers in Boston, Dallas in, well, Dallas, House in Philadelphia, as well as the various CSI franchises in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and New York; for most of us we have seen around, and explored, a number of North American cities from our own homes!  They are strangely familiar.  Thus we feel we know North American cities. Of course, we do not.  Rather we know a small number of quite exceptional cities, and then, very particular parts of them and how they are represented through film, music and television.


This course complicates our understanding of North American cities.  It takes us through the emergence of the first North American cities, and their changing cultural, economic, environmental, political, racial and social make-up.  It troubles their representation on the television and in the movies.  Not all North American cities are Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.  In fact, most are not.  My most recent work has been conducted in Lexington and Louisville!  The course examines the changing ways in which they have been governed and their changing position in American society, particularly with the emergence of suburbanization during the 1950s and the gentrification-driven-renaissance of some of their downtown in the 2000s.  It ends by considering social justice in the contemporary North American city and who has the right to it.


§  To examine the emergence of, and changes in, the North American city over the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first century

§  To appreciate the differences and similarities between Canadian and US cities and urban systems

§  To theorize the emergence, reproduction and restructuring of the North American city, in the context of the wider capitalist space economy

§  To appreciate the role of certain US cities in the generation of urban theory

§  To discuss the various methods which have been used to study the North American city 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, successful students should be able to:

§  Understand and explain the key changes in the geographies of the North American city over the course of the twentieth and the beginnings of the twenty first century

§  Understand and explain the different theoretical perspectives on the emergence of, and restructuring of, the North American city, and specifically, the contribution of geographers in understanding the politics of the North American city

§  Understand and explain the various methods that have been used to study the North American city, and their various advantages and disadvantages

§  Reflect on what this course has meant empirically, methodologically and theoretically for the own piece of research, the dissertation

§  Illustrate your arguments with examples and case studies drawn from North American cities 



Introduction (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

In the beginning … the emergence and expansion of North American Cities (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

US advanced capitalism: restructuring the contemporary North American City (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Governing the contemporary North American City (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Production and consumption in the North American City (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Labouring in the North American City (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Class and the North American City: the case of gentrification (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Ethnicity and race in the North American City (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

The right to the North American city (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Revision (Lecture theatre) and seminar (seminar room)

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods and e-learning:

The course unit will be delivered via a 2+1 format, namely a two-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar each week. The lecture sessions will be interactive and include a variety of individual and group activities. Sessions will draw upon a range of resources, from videos to photographic images, from state documentation to other grey literature.  The seminars will provide space for student-led engagement with the supporting literature and other course materials.  A high level of student participation will be required from all students throughout the course.

Assessment methods

Students will be assessed by a piece of individual 2500 word coursework, worth 33%, and an exam worth 67%.

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Extensive verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures and seminars;
  • Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours;

§  Detailed written feedback on the coursework assignments.

Recommended reading

Bunting T and Filion P (editors) (1991) Canadian Cities in Transition, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Fainstein S and Campbell S (editors) (2011) Readings in Urban Theory (third edition), Oxford: Blackwell

Hackworth J (2007) The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology and Development in American Urbanism, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Hall T and Hubbard P (editors) (1998) The Entrepreneurial City: Geographies of Politics, Regime and Representation, Chichester:  John Wiley & Sons

Jonas A E G, McCann E and Thomas M (2015) Urban Geography: A Critical Introduction, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell

Know P, Bartels E H, Bohland J R, Holcomb B and Johnston R (editors) (1988) The United States: A Contemporary Human Geography, Harlow, Essex: Longman Group

Knox P and McCarthy L (2012) Urbanization: An Introduction to Urban Geography, London: Pearson/Prentice Hall (third edition)

Mitchell D (2003) The Right to the City, New York: Guilford

Smith N (1996) The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City, London: Routledge


Key Journals:

These are journals that you will encounter a number of times over your course. You should familiarize yourself with them.

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Journal of Urban Affairs

Urban Affairs Review

Urban Geography

Urban Studies

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kevin Ward Unit coordinator

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