urban planning studios

Co-Coordinators for Fall 2017: Danielle Rivera and Scott Carman


ENVD 3100 is a planning and design studio that introduces students to natural and human systems in the urban context and a broad range of associated issues, knowledge, and skills. Students will develop tools to achieve social and ecological goals within a public policy context. This process will lead to the development of planning and design scenarios that maximize community benefit. Through a series of exercises and design explorations, students will work at a variety of scales with concepts of sustainability, planning, urban design, landscape architecture, and architecture.

This course introduces students to larger-scale issues in the field of environmental design in a manner that complements and supports the concepts and endeavors of other environmental design subfields, including architecture and landscape architecture. As such, it builds upon first and second year ENVD skills of design thinking, analysis, drawing, graphic communication and digital media skills. Students will develop analytical skills, including applied research, systematic analysis and computer-aided geospatial analysis. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology will be the primary tool of analysis, along with documentation and data analysis. Students will communicate research, observations and design explorations using hand sketching, diagrams, photography, map generation, digital design media and oral presentations.

course assignments

The course will be organized into four modules that each address a critical city planning goal and provide a framework for learning the fundamental components of urban planning and design. For each module, you will be given a detailed assignment sheet.

  • Module 1 – Mapping the City (3 weeks)
  • Module 2 – Urban Analysis and Planning Frameworks (5 weeks)
  • Module 3 – Urban Design Master Plan for Denver’s River North (RiNo) Arts District (3 weeks)
  • Module 4 – Design Intervention in River North (RiNo) Arts District (5 weeks)
Plan of Rome, Giambattista Nolli (1748)

Plan of Rome, Giambattista Nolli (1748)


The representational nature of maps […] is often ignored – what we see when looking at a map is not the word, but an abstract representation that we find convenient to use in place of the world. When we build these abstract representations we are not revealing knowledge as much as are creating it.  
― Alan MacEachren (2004, p. V)

Every map is a distortion of reality: transforming three dimensions into two necessarily involves the omission of some data to highlight other information. Furthermore, when mapping cities, the dynamic nature of urban systems is often impossible to fully capture in a static projection. As such, Module 1 introduces you to the basics of GIS mapping, large-scale spatial analyses, and planning theory and history. As you will see, these three aspects are intricately linked: it is very difficult to discuss large-scale urban analysis and planning without understanding how and why we approach the city in the manner we do. The goal is to see: how time informs the dynamic nature of the city, how the static nature of maps and data can distort those urban realities, and how we can truthfully map urban phenomena.

In this module, you will choose an international city from a vetted list and complete a series of massing and density maps. The work of Giambattista Nolli and Camillo Sitte are excellent precedents for this form of ichnographic (or plan-based) mapping. You will also analyze these maps in terms of the historical development of the city, paying particular attention to differences between the forms of the “core” and “periphery” of your city.

Image of Denver's 16th Street streetcar from 1924 (from Denver Urbanism)

Image of Denver's 16th Street streetcar from 1924 (from Denver Urbanism)


Module 2 builds upon the basic GIS skills you learned in Module 1, and begins to examine the different planning systems that underpin the the City of Denver. Transportation, land use, and open space are only a few of the many intermingled systems that form what we know as “Denver.” In Module 2, you will disentangle and analyze several of these systems, then re-assemble them into a layered analysis of the city that accounts for the history and theory of its development. In your analyses and studies, the work of Ian McHarg will be a major precedent.

River North (RiNo) Arts District's logo

River North (RiNo) Arts District's logo


“A border--the perimeter of a single massive or stretched-out use of territory--forms the edge of an area of 'ordinary' city. Often borders are thought of as passive objects, or matter-of-factly just as edges. However, a border exerts an active influence.”
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, p. 257)

Using your earlier analyses of the City of Denver, you will evaluate the neighborhood of River North (RiNo) in relation to its position within the city. As Jacobs mentions above (1961, p. 257), borders and edge conditions often segment the city in unnatural ways. Thus, in addition to defining RiNo, you should also understand how it is intricately connected to the rest of the Denver region.

Working in groups of three to four, you will then propose a master plan for RiNo. This master plan should not only account for the urban systems within and intersecting across RiNo, but also needs to account for the neighborhood plans currently proposed by the city and private firms. Additionally, data collected from interactions with key RiNo stakeholders will greatly inform your final master plans.

Street scene in RiNo

Street scene in RiNo


“Each generation writes its own bibliography in the cities it creates.”
― Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities

Building upon your master plans and the feedback received from your Module 3 Final Review, you will propose a design-based intervention in RiNo. This intervention should connect to your own personal interests in a sub-discipline within planning, including: transportation planning, housing and community development, environmental planning, economic development, or food systems planning. Interventions must, at a minimum, take four contiguous blocks into account.