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Unit 2, Public Space: Introduction

Welcome to the second of three units that make up this course!

Early in this unit, you will write a traditional summary of the first reading, "The Monument and the Bungalow," At the end of the unit, you will write an analysis of a public space.


By the end of the unit, you should be able to demonstrate the following skills and knowledge:

  • Abstract the main idea or thesis from a reading
  • Summarize ideas presented in a reading
  • Explain how a writer supports and illustrates ideas and connects them to the thesis
  • Identify stylistic features and tone in an essay
  • Plan and develop an essay
  • Use description to develop ideas in an essay
  • Organize an essay logically and coherently

What we will be reading and writing about

As we work toward acquiring / improving the skills above, we will be making a study of American "public space"— i.e., the kind of places that we share with others beyond our intimate friends and our families: for example, neighborhoods, schools, the public library, city hall, parks, public markets, malls, city sidewalks, etc. We will also think about the ways we participate (and do not participate) in various communities, and the ways our public spaces enhance or inhibit community building. To put the task another way, we will learn to "read" the physical, human-built and inhabited landscape around us for what it says about us.

Before moving on with the readings, take a moment to review the writing assignments (links to the left). A good understanding of your writing tasks now will make writing your essays much easier later on!

Why this topic is worth studying

people on park benchesWe tend to take our everyday places for granted, but we really shouldn't. Think for a minute about the kind of public places you take pleasure in, and also about the places which make you feel uncomfortable or afraid. There are many factors which shape our experience of place, not the least of which are economic factors and attitudes about race and class. Moreover, if we rely on newspapers, television, politicians, and textbooks to tell us who we are, and overlook what our landscape tells us, we leave out valuable and instructive texts; as Peirce Lewis says in his essay "Axioms for Reading the Landscape," the landscape is our "unwitting autobiography, reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations, and even our fears, in tangible, visible form." We will read several texts (listed to the left) and share thoughts about these texts. From this study, and simultaneous study of reading and writing techniques, you will be prepared by the end of the unit to write your own study of a landscape you frequent, or have frequented in the past.

Optional: Watch the short video of J.B. Jackson explaining what cultural landscapes have to teach us. You can view the complete 46-minute video, Figure in Landscape: A Conversation with J.B. Jackson (1987), in Media Services, lower level of Doyle Library.

Readings: Overview

Below is a description of the readings that make up the content of this unit. For a complete schedule of assignments for this unit, please go to the calendar link.

"The Monument and the Bungalow" Peirce Lewis.  This essay was written in 1998, but it is still an authoritative text on how to "read" and understand cultural landscapes. Lewis' essay will set the foundation for this unit. After learning some terms and perhaps a new way of thinking about the ordinary places in our everyday life, we can move on to some specific studies and reflections on our public spaces and how we use them.

McTeague Though McTeague is a work of fiction, the author, Frank Norris, captures the feel of urban Chicago in the 1890's. Notice just how different, but also how similar the street scene Norris describes is to everyday urban street scenes today, and notice his use of detail to bring the city street to life.

"Streets and Yards of East Los Angeles" James Rojas. In this essay, Rojas explores the cultural transformation of a bungalow suburb in East Los Angeles by a Mexican American community. He studies the significance of the front-yard fences, furniture, and props that make the front yards "personal statements." And the use of color, murals, business signs, and shops to create the "unique landscape of the barrior. . . . a place unified by human behavior and ideas."

"K'Mart Has a Loveable Disorder" Hank Steuver. This essay is quite humorous. The author describes why he loves K'Mart in spite of its having "lipstick on its teeth." I include the essay here because it is a wonderful example of a cultural landscape study.