11.027 City to City: Comparing, Researching and Writing about Cities

Spring 2006

Nyhavn canal in Copenhagen, Denmark.Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark and a waterfront city, is the subject of comparative research in this course. (Photo by Prof. Abbanat.)

Course Highlights

This course features a full set of lecture notes, as well as assignments and an image gallery from the trip to Copenhagen.

Course Description

This course introduces undergraduate planning students to the role of the planner in researching issues in cities both in the United States and abroad. This course is a practical, hands-on workshop that challenges students to research, write and present their ideas on two different cities: A U.S. City (preferably somewhere close) and Copenhagen. Students will be equipped to:

Special Features


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Planning and design for a city can seem abstract. When beginning a research project, some of the first questions to ask include: How do I gather information, find people to talk to or understand enough background about a problem to be able to discuss possible solutions? And, when we try to research topics in other countries, we have to struggle with a number of added barriers including: language, cultural differences, and imperfect information, among other usual research problems.

This course introduces undergraduate planning students to the role of the planner in researching issues in cities both in the United States and abroad. This course is a practical, hands-on workshop that challenges students to research, write and present their ideas on two different cities - A U.S. City (preferably somewhere close) and Copenhagen. Students will be equipped to:

The end product for the class will be a research paper that provides a comparative analysis of the two cities. A comparative analysis is challenging because it asks you to research a topic from the U.S. perspective and then from the international perspective. For example, understanding low income housing policies in Boston can give you a frame of reference for understanding low income hosing policies in Denmark. At the same time, just because you understand the issues in the U.S. doesn't mean that this perspective can directly translate to Copenhagen. There may be other issues, cultural, historical, etc that you will need to consider. Yet, by understanding your topic from the U.S. perspective, you will know what questions to ask. You will know what the primary issues are and your research will be easier to conduct. In other words, your questions will be richer, your ideas more clear, and your research time in Copenhagen will be more focused.

Recommended Readings

Amazon logo Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. The Craft of Research. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. ISBN: 0226065685.
This book is clear, to the point and one of the best books out there for guiding the development of research papers, theses, and dissertations. Many students and professionals have found it indispensable. This book is required in 11.Tht in the Fall.

Amazon logo Hansen, Kristine. A Rhetoric for the Social Sciences: A Guide to Academic and Professional Communication. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1998. ISBN: 0134402723.
What I like about this book is its focus on explaining to students the different methodologies that can be used to research a topic.

Amazon logo Behling, John H. Guidelines for Preparing the Research Proposal. Revised ed. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984. ISBN: 0819137340.
What I like about this book is that it clearly outlines the steps, pieces and parts to creating a research proposal.

Our 11.027 Class has Six Major Parts

The Comparative Planning Research Notebook

You will be expected to keep and update a research record for the semester. Your research record is the place where you write your observations, ideas and thoughts during the semester. Notebooks will be reviewed and graded at two points during the semester.


Each of you will pick a single topic to research in both the United States and Copenhagen. In order to figure out what you really want to study, you will be asked to think of three possible topic ideas to present visually to your classmates.

Pre-trip Writing

Once you decide on your topic, you need to start writing. Each of you will be guided to submit a two page proposal for study before we leave for Copenhagen. You will draft and redraft your proposal and then submit it to your peers for review to ensure clarity and direction. As part of your research you will interview faculty and/or alumni/ae on your topic as part of the proposal writing process.

The Trip

During the break, we will travel to Copenhagen to begin our on-site research (with our research notebooks). Here you will be sent to discover the city using a number of strategies including:

Post-trip Writing

Upon return, you will begin drafting and redrafting sections of your research paper and your oral presentation. We will have structured workshop time where questions can be asked and answered by instructors/other faculty, alumni/ae, and fellow students. Together we will talk about all that you have found and we will try to make sense of it.

The Final Product


1Introduction to City to City
2What about Copenhagen?Assignment 1 due
3What about Boston?Assignment 2 due
4Workshop/Discussion - InterviewsAssignment 3 due
5Guest Presentation by Prof. Ole Madsen, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental EngineeringAssignment 4 due
6Guest Presentation by Thomas Oles - "A Tourist in Denmark"
Assignment 5 due
Class Trip: Ten day trip to Copenhagen, Denmark
7Trip De-briefingNotebook due

Assignment 6 due
8Research Paper Editing WorkshopAssignment 7 due
9Field Trip 1 - Green Line Extension into Somerville, MA and Medford, MAAssignment 8 due
10Field Trip 2 - Visiting Boston's Suburbs (Concord, MA)Assignment 9 due
11Field Trip 3 - Boston Waterfront TourAssignment 10 due
12Final Presentations: DUSP ForumAssignment 11 due
13Wrap UpFinal papers due


What about Copenhagen?

Goldberger, Paul. "The Sculptor: Santiago Calatrava redefines the apartment tower." The New Yorker, The Critics, The Sky Line, October 31, 2005.

Updike, John. "Incommensurability: A new biography of Kierkegaard." The New Yorker, The Critics, Books, March 28, 2005.

Hamilton, William. "A Global Look at Urban Planning." New York Times, January 12, 2006.

"A Modest Undertaking." The Economist 370, no. 8365 (March 4, 2004): 68.

"A not-so-popular Nordic bridge." The Economist, October 5, 2000.

"Love bridge to Sweden." The Economist, July 8, 2004.

"Full Fogh forward." The Economist, February 3, 2005.

"The welcome-mat has gone." The Economist, July 4, 2002.

"Prophetic insults." The Economist, January 5, 2006.

"What Next?" The Economist, October 5, 2000.

"Viking Binge." The Economist, November 13, 2003.

"Racial tensions in Denmark: Danes on the rampage." The Economist, November 11, 1999.

"Unholy row." The Economist, June 26, 2003.

"Have car-boot, will travel." The Economist, August 29, 2002.

"Happy Family?" The Economist, January 21, 1999.

"Sharp tongues." The Economist, June 12, 2003.

"Testing Danish Tolerance." The Economist, August 26, 1999.

Fouché, Gwladys. "Danish paper sparks angry protests." The Guardian, January 30, 2006.

Watt, Nicholas. "Bomb threat to repentant Danish paper." The Guardian, February 1, 2006.

"Yemenis Scholars Condemns Denmark Abuses against Prophet." Yemen Observer IX, no. 03 (January 30, 2006).

Harding, Luke, and Kim Willsher. "Anger as papers reprint cartoons of Muhammad," The Guardian, February 2, 2006.

Makovsky, Paul. "Pedestrian Cities." Metropolis, August/September 2002.

What about Boston?

Web page of the City of Boston

The Boston 2003 Trend Report: Snapshot of Boston's Children and Youth (PDF - 2.5 MB)

Boston 2002-2006 Open Space Plan

Boston Mayor's Priorities


Affordable Housing


Neighborhood Revitalization

Public Safety

"Boston's New Bridge." The Economist, March 29, 2003.

Lecture Notes

1Introduction to City to CityFirst, Students will be introduced to the idea of comparing cities. What does it mean to compare? What assumptions do we bring to the study that we need to be aware of?

Next, students will be introduced to Copenhagen and its many planning challenges and opportunities. Students will be asked to think about factors such as the history, the layout of the city and its neighborhoods, the government structure and current planning issues/concerns.

1st hour: Comparing cities - Prof. Cherie Abbanat.

2nd hour: Thinking about Copenhagen.

Planning Logistics: Air Reservations/Accommodations/Budget Discussion/Pick a presentation time.
2What about Copenhagen?1st hour: Presentations of potential topics by students. (These will be filmed.)

2nd hour: Expert on the City. Guest Speaker from the Royal Danish Consulate will speak about Denmark's history and contemporary planning issues. Be prepared to take notes in your research notebook.

Class Notes (PDF)
3What about Boston?Today we will look at Boston through the eyes of a researcher. Matthew Brownell, architect and planner, will give us an overview of Boston's Bullfinch triangle as it has changed through Boston's history. Here you will learn how by studying an area or an issue, you can learn much about a city's history.

1st hour: Methodologies. How will you study your issue? We will discuss different the types of methods that can be used to study an issue.

2:30 - 3:00: A bit of Boston History from a design perspective - Matthew Brownell.

Class Notes (PDF)
4Workshop/Discussion - Interviews1st ½ hour: Proposals reviewed: Speed editing.
2nd ½ hour: Interview techniques: Now that students have done some preliminary research, it is time to interview 1 or 2 of the people you have identified as experts on their issues. We will discuss interviewing techniques and prepare preliminary questions for our interviewees.

2nd hour: There is so much more than GoogleTM! Now that you have had a chance to do some research on your own, the MIT librarians will speak to you about how to get even more out of the library on your topic.

Class Notes (PDF)
5Guest Presentation by Prof. Ole Madsen, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering1st hour: Interview debriefing. What did you learn?

2nd hour: Growing up Danish - Visit with Prof. Ole Madsen.

Class Notes (PDF)
6Guest Presentation by Thomas Oles - "A Tourist in Denmark"

1st hour: Workshop 2-pagers. Students will switch documents and go to work editing with their peers.

2nd hour: Thomas Oles, Planner/Architect. A foreigner in Copenhagen. What to expect, what to see, how to approach this new city.

Class Notes (PDF)
Class Trip: Ten day trip to Copenhagen, DenmarkResearch Necessities to bring:
- Your research notebook (pens/pencils)
- Sketch pad, if necessary
- Your digital camera
- Your digital camcorder, if necessary
- Your digital voice recorder, if necessary

1. Scavenger Hunt: The trip will begin with a scavenger hunt where you will search for clues, places of interest and pieces of information that are somewhat related to your topics of interest. The purpose of the scavenger hunt is three-fold:
- To orient you to your new environment, means of transportation and feel of the city, and
- To allow you to get comfortable working with your group on your fact-finding missions, and
- To have fun.

2. Meetings: The trip will include meetings with planners, particularly DUSP alumni/ae in that City so that you can ask questions and get answers about where and how best to focus your limited time within the City. You must prepare ahead of time a list of questions for the planner(s).
7Trip De-briefing1st hour: Debriefing on Copenhagen.

2nd hour: Sharing. Photo essay presentations.

Class Notes (PDF)
8Research Paper Editing Workshop1st hour: What are the pieces of a research paper?

2nd hour: Workshop. Expanding the paper and re-visioning.

Class Notes (PDF)
9Field Trip 1 - Green Line Extension into Somerville, MA and Medford, MAClass Notes (PDF)
10Field Trip 2 - Visiting Boston's Suburbs (Concord, MA)Class Notes (PDF)
11Field Trip 3 - Boston Waterfront Tour
12Final Presentations: DUSP ForumFaculty and DUSP and alumni/ae students will be invited to attend the student presentations. (These will be filmed.)
13Wrap Up


1Introduction to City to CityAssignment 1

Can you think of three planning topics that interest you? What do you want to know more about? Is there a problem that you want to see fixed? Can Boston learn from Copenhagen? Can Copenhagen learn from Boston?

- Create a 5 minute visual presentation (not too many words please, mostly images) on a planning issue of interest to you. Try to focus on Boston and Copenhagen as you think about your issue. You should pull images from places like GoogleTM image or the various Boston and Copenhagen Web sites available. Students will pick a time to present over the next two classes.

- As part of preparing your presentation, you will most likely have a few questions about topics, Denmark and yourself. Write down all of these questions in your research notebook. Then, pull out at least 5 questions for our Guest Jacob Friis from the Royal Danish Consulate, Boston.

Due in Week #2
2What about Copenhagen?Assignment 2

Make a list of 5 people that you could talk to about your topic idea here in the U.S. Write a paragraph on each person describing their backgrounds. These people can be DUSP faculty, DUSP alumni/ae or other individuals. The instructors can help with suggestions. This is a good time to set up an interviewing time with 1 or 2 of these people. Remember they all have busy schedules and you need to interview at least 1 by Week #5.

Due in Week #3
3What about Boston?In-Class Exercises (PDF)

Assignment 3

Using Boston as your study area, begin researching your topic. Prepare a 2-page, double-spaced proposal that tells the reader the following:

- 2-3 paragraphs describing the issue you intend to study in Boston and Copenhagen and the motivation behind studying it.
- 2-3 paragraphs describing the method you will use to discover information about your issue (e.g., library research, observation, mapping, census, etc.).

Include citations for at least 3 sources of information (only 1 of these sources can be a Web site).

Due in Week #4
4Workshop/Discussion - InterviewsAssignment 4

- Interview 1 or 2 people in Boston (maybe at MIT) about your topic idea.

- Prepare 5 questions for Prof. Ole Madsen, Professor of Civil Engineering and our guest speaker who grew up in Copenhagen.

Due in Week #5
5Guest Presentation by Prof. Ole Madsen, MIT Professor of Civil and Environmental EngineeringIn-Class Exercises (PDF)

Assignment 5

Now that you have written your 1 page proposal and you have interviewed an expert, you need to begin focusing on your research angle when you get to Copenhagen. We can use writing as a way to focus and shape your ideas. Craft a written 2-page paper that discusses the history of the issue as it is being addressed in Copenhagen. Structure the paper as follows:

- 2-3 paragraphs on the history of the issue in Copenhagen.
- 2-3 paragraphs on the current thoughts on your issue in Copenhagen.
- 2-3 paragraphs on the method you plan to use to study the issue in Copenhagen.

Include at least 3 references (only one of which can be a Web site).

Due in Week #6
6Guest Presentation by Thomas Oles - "A Tourist in Denmark"Assignment 6

Prepare a list of questions in your research notebook for the planners we will meet.

Due in Week #7
Class Trip: Ten day trip to Copenhagen, Denmark
7Trip De-briefingDue Today: Turn in your Notebook for Grading

Assignment 7

Revise your proposal and your paper into a single 5-page paper.

Due in Week #8
8Research Paper Editing WorkshopIn-Class Exercises (PDF)

Assignment 8

Begin working on the first draft of your research paper. Try to pull the pieces together. Think about how you will organize the information you have collected. What will the final product look like?

Due in Week #9
9Field Trip 1 - Green Line Extension into Somerville, MA and Medford, MAAssignment 9

Write a first draft of your research paper (about 10 pages).

Due in Week #10
10Field Trip 2 - Visiting Boston's Suburbs (Concord, MA)Assignment 10

Begin preparing your final presentation.

Due in Week #11
11Field Trip 3 - Boston Waterfront TourAssignment 11

Prepare your final presentation.

Due in Week #12
12Final Presentations: DUSP ForumAssignment 12

Complete final version of research paper (15-20 pages).

Due in Week #13
13Wrap UpFinal Papers due.

Image Gallery



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