The Once and Future City

A 180-degree hemispherical photo of Cambridge and Boston taken from the Massachusetts Avenue bridge.

A cloudy evening on the bridge between Boston and Cambridge. In 2015, this course focused on the 100th anniversary of MIT's move across the Charles River, from Boston to Cambridge. (Courtesy of nd-nʎ on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA.)


MIT Course Number

11.016J / 4.211J

As Taught In

Spring 2015



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

Class website: The Once & Future City

What is a city? What shapes it? How does its history influence future development? How do physical form and institutions vary from city to city and how are these differences significant? How are cities changing and what is their future? This course will explore these and other questions, with emphasis upon twentieth-century American cities. A major focus will be on the physical form of cities—from downtown and inner-city to suburb and edge city—and the processes that shape them.

These questions and more are explored through lectures, readings, workshops, field trips, and analysis of particular places, with the city itself as a primary text. In light of the 2016 centennial of MIT's move from Boston to Cambridge, the 2015 iteration of the course focused on MIT's original campus in Boston's Back Bay, and the university's current neighborhood in Cambridge. Short field assignments, culminating in a final project, will provide students opportunities to use, develop, and refine new skills in "reading" the city.

Other Versions

Related Content

Anne Spirn. 11.016J The Once and Future City. Spring 2015. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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