American Cities Spring 2019

  • Instructor: Seth E. Spielman
  • F 9:00-12:00, ENVD 102
  • Email:
  • Office: Guggenheim 103C
  • Office Hours: TBD

Course Description and Objectives

Nearly 82% of the American population lives on 3% of the country’s land area. America is an urban country, in a rapidly urbanizing world. Urbanization has profound implications for the environment, society, and the structure of your daily life. This class is an introduction to Urban Geography with an emphasis on American Cities.

Cities are human artifacts and are shaped by nature, technology, and culture. Cities are built slowly over time. This class is founded on the idea that in order to understand cities one needs both a “long running start in history” and a keen eye. The best way to understand how cities grow, change, and affect us, both individually and as a society, is to look backward at history and at the urban world around us.

This course has two major components: a lecture based review of the history and development of American cities and community based group exercises.


Your course grade will be based on community based group exercises (50% of your final grade), peer evaluation of your participation in community-based exercises (5% of your final grade), two in-class exams based on lecture and reading material (each 20% of your final grade), and small homework and in class assignments (5% of final grade).

Your final grade is the weighted sum of Community-based assignments + Exam 1 + Exam 2 + Peer Evaluation + In class/home Assignments. Each item is scored on a 100-point scale. Each item is weighted according to its share of your final grade.

All fractional point scores are rounded UP to next highest point.

Assignments handed in late lose 10% of point value per day. In-class worksheets will not be accepted late.

Community-based group assignments

Your community-based group exercises will be completed in the form of a blog. Instructions and a grading rubric will be distributed for each of the six assignments.

The community based group exercises:

  • Assignment 1: Edges, Culture and Territory in Boulder, CO
  • Assignment 2: No Garage? The evolution of American housing.
  • Assignment 3: Should Boulder be a suburb of Denver or Palo Alto?
  • Assignment 4: Bradburn. New Urbanism in practice.
  • Assignment 5 (tbd): Housing and inequality in the front range. -or- Financing Boulder: sales tax declines and the future of the Boulder bubble.

Peer and self-evaluation of community-based assignments

I realize that group work can be difficult and that not all members of the group will contribute equally to the final project. All group members share the final group grade. At the end of the semester each student will be asked to complete a form evaluating themselves and each member of the group. We will use these forms to grade your level of participation in the group project.

Grievance Procedure: In extreme cases, if all members of your group agree that you are not participating in the group project. If a grievance is filed against you, you must attend a meeting with the instructor and you may be docked up to 50% of your final grade for the community-based exercises.


There will be two exams during the semester. Exams will cover material from both lecture and reading assignments. The majority of exam questions will come from reading assignments.

  • EXAM I March 8 2019 (in class)
  • EXAM II April 26 2019 (in class)

Participation, small homework and class assignments (5% of final grade)

This portion of your grade is absed on participation in the class and various small assignments may be collected in class or electronically. They will not be accepted late.


There is one required textbook:

image-right Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward Glaeser

Class Policies

Digital devices

Laptops, cell phones, and other things with screens are not to be used during in class without expression permission of the instructor.

Honor Code

All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at and at


If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to your professor a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at

If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Medical Conditions: Injuries, Surgeries, and Illnesses guidelines under Quick Links at Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Observances

Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. See full details at


Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student’s legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records. See policies at and at

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. The University of Colorado does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status in admission and access to, and treatment and employment in, its educational programs and activities. (Regent Law, Article 10, amended 11/8/2001). CU-Boulder will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student. For purposes of this CU-Boulder policy, “Protected Classes” refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or veteran status. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at 303-492-5550. Information about the ODH, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be obtained at