This week was my first week of classes.
Our first six-week study in City Seminar I is on transportation, particularly the transportation system (trains, buses, MTA) here in New York City and in other urban spaces globally. This topic will be explored in all three course components of our Freshman Seminar course which is called City Seminar. The three course components are: Critical Issue, Quantitative Reasoning, and Reading & Writing. I teach the Reading & Writing component course.
Although our lens for the entire semester is the lens of sustainability in urban settings, I am approaching the concept of transportation and sustainability from a humanistic perspective: How does our City’s transportation system force us to share spaces with those different than us? What does this do to us as a City? As individuals? What do we notice, see, do on the train that fosters our humanity?
To launch the topic last week, I had the students read to short texts: the short essay “Little Things Are Big” by Jesus Colon and one of my favorite poems by Sharon Olds, “On the Subway.” But before we got into the texts, we discussed the neighborhoods we live in, who lives there, and how we get from home to school and who we see on the train. Then we wrote about our commute that day and one memorable train/bus experience (wow–you can’t even imagine what we have all experienced!). Then we talked about what our city looks like racially, and we used this amazing tool: Racial Segregation Map
In this map of NYC above, each dot (if you go to the website and zoom in you can see the dots better) = one person. The code is:
Blue = White people
Green = Black people
Orange = Hispanic people
Red = Asian people
Brown = other (Native American, multiracial, etc.)
I first heard about this map from a Wired Magazine article that floated around Facebook. Of course, NYC fascinated me because I live here, but the map of St. Louis, MO was the most astounding. My friend Brook teaches in St. Louis–God bless her. (Map of St. Louis below)
My students literally gasped when they saw this map. Wow. What year is this?
I wish I was more technologically savvy so that I could overlay the NYC Subway Map on top of the racial segregation map of our City, but the students got the gist. In fact, in one class a student rushed up to the Smartboard and showed us his commute from his home in the Bronx, down the Upper West Side, and to our college at Bryant Park, and he told us stop-by-stop what types of people get on and off the train. He was astounded to see that the Census 2010 data identically matched his experience.
From the maps, we moved on to discuss our two short readings. Both the essay and the poem discussed race, prejudice, stereotyping, power, and how these issues play themselves out in the setting of the subway. For their first essay (assigned this weekend so I could get a baseline assessment of their writing), they had to create an argument about our public transportation system and how it does/doesn’t affect us as people and use their experiences and the texts to back up their argument.
I moved to NYC 14 years ago for many reasons, but one big reason was for the public transportation. Very excited to study it in depth with my students for the next six weeks.
One week of the semester down, 11 more to go!