The city as palimpsest

The city as palimpsest

In the required reading for Unit 1, David Harvey writes of the city as a palimpsest, a “composite landscape made up of different built forms superimposed upon each other with the passing of time” (p. 49). In his view, “Planners, architects, urban designers . . . all face one common problem: how to plan the construction of the next layers in the urban palimpsest in ways that match future wants and needs without doing too much violence to all that has gone before. What has gone before is important precisely because it is the locus of collective memory, of political identity, and of powerful symbolic meanings at the same time as it constitutes a bundle of resources constituting possibilities as well as barriers in the built environment for creative social change” (pp. 49–50).

Choose one area of one Canadian city and create a visual essay, using maps, photographs, and explanatory text to describe the city as a palimpsest in which the area’s history is partially visible beneath the new. With reference to your visual research, and informed by readings from the course materials and beyond, provide a thoughtful and critical analysis of your visual essay that includes or considers the aspects below—images, layers, social justice, and political agenda. Your visual essay should include at least 15 and no more than 20 images, at least three of which must be maps. 

Images: Find or create images of this part of your chosen city in the Mercantile Era, the Commercial Era, the Industrial Era, and the Post-Industrial Era. Scale the maps so that they can be layered, one on top of the other, to communicate the changing city.

Layers: Consider layers of physical geography, Aboriginal heritage, colonial history, and twentieth-century policies and trends: how has the form and function of the city changed over time?

Social justice: In the required reading for Unit 6, Sandercock notes that questions about social justice and the city invite us to attend to radical practices that individually do not seem system-threatening “but taken together they . . . have the potential for making people less dependent on global capital, increasing social power and experiencing their own political power, albeit at a local level” (p. 177). Are there traces of people’s advocacy, over the past century, visible in the design and shape of your chosen city?

Political agenda: Brooks, in the required reading for Unit 4, cites Murray Edelman, who writes that the political agenda changes as “conditions accepted as inevitable or unproblematic may come to be seen as problems, and damaging conditions may not be defined as political issues at all” (p. 7). Can you see evidence of the changing political agenda in the layered history of your city?

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