Mason Students Become Urban Designers

By Alex Amland

digital cityGeorge Mason University’s New Century College course, Digital Communities (NCLC 375), which I took this semester, has joined forces with Digital America in an ambitious and innovative project aimed at conceptualizing the future of digital sustainable cities.

The class teamed students with Digital America, a new journal project that seeks to highlight the unique perspectives of Millennials on the role of digital technologies within our culture, giving students an opportunity to have their work published.

Throughout the course our class studied cities as the center of innovation, progress and cultural mobility, but also as sites of environmental degradation and socio-economic inequalities. As cities continue to become more densely populated and the percentage of the world’s population becomes more urban, more cities are increasing their sustainability efforts.

Kristin Scott, the course instructor and a PhD candidate in cultural studies at George Mason, is currently working on her dissertation, tentatively titled “The ‘Digital City’: A Critical Examination of the Discursive Practices of Urban Digitality in Three U.S. Cities.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 3.13.29 PM“The class is one that I created based primarily off of my own research and my own interests, so trying to translate that from a PhD level to an undergraduate level was challenging,” Scott says. “I have been really pleased to see students’ interest in terms of the digital sustainability efforts with the cities, as well as the utopian and dystopian elements that are inherent in many urban cultural imaginaries and visions that inevitably inform urban planning.”

As a participant in this learning community, I have noticed that other students have been very passionate about the course. Mason senior Sara Evers was especially enthusiastic about her experience.

“This is probably my favorite class this semester,” she says. “The course work was really challenging, but the course never felt too hard or unfair. I thought this was a class that challenged me to actually think in theoretical ways.”

Technologies of all kinds are playing a large role in urban centers. Our class was tasked to propose and develop a plan to discuss how digital technologies can be leveraged to build “smart” cities, echoing the curriculum in New Century College that is designed to cross multiple disciplines and provide real-world experience.

For this final project, six groups articulated their “vision” of a sustainable digital or “smart” city using a digital and publishable tool. Throughout the project, each of the six groups created a Tumblr page where members of each group posted research, idea generation and analyses to support their city development and organization.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 3.12.55 PM“I’ve been in the workforce for 15 years, and it is all about interpersonal communication,” says Amanda Hutchings, a student in the course. “This project has been 100 percent communication — you have to be open to hear new ideas and see where they go. Group work, especially the way that we worked, is reflective of how a positive workplace should interact.”

Another student, Winter Reyes, says, “I think this class helps. It makes you think more about all of the technologies that are used and how they’re being used by companies. Then when you become a part of that company, how are you using that technology and what are the possible consequences of using it? We are going to be a part of that change whether it’s from the company side or the consumer side.”

Overall, the course has provided students an opportunity to be imaginative and creative and work in a collaborative environment. The course helped students create bonds with each other, as well as develop critical skills that will benefit them in the workforce.

To see the final projects, visit Digital AmericaThe course will be offered again in fall 2014 as an NCLC 348 special topics class.  

Alex Amland is graduating from Mason this month with a BA in integrative studies and a concentration in global information management.