City as Classroom, City as Laboratory

Avery Normandin

Often, we neglect to see the city as living, complex, and dynamic. However, shrouded by its masses of concrete and steel lie unique ecosystems awaiting exploration and inquiry. Now more than ever, as urban populations boom and city boundaries expand, there exists a pressing need to understand urban ecology, the environmental impact of cities and their development, and  the importance of designing in concert with nature, rather than against it. Yet, in spite of this, curricula for youth focused on ecology canonically instruct on topics which apply exclusively to natural, undeveloped systems—even in metropolitan schools where access to “nature” is difficult or a privilege. 

City as Classroom, City as Laboratory began as a series of educational workshops (2018) for youth in the Greater Boston area, ages 8 to 14, to simultaneously address the lack of nature-conscious design education, as well as our failure to leverage cities as invaluable resources for exploratory learning . Throughout the sessions, students explored Boston's "urban wilds" in order to become enveloped in the hybrid ecology of dynamic and ever-growing. The curriculum emphasizes low-cost, hands-on approaches for culturing ecological identity such that students are able to recognize and appreciate the complex ecological processes ongoing in urban contexts, and thus understand cities as novel ecosystems.

The goal of this educational framework is to inspire urban youth to champion future endeavors related to the environmental and political spheres (in efforts related to conservation, wildlife protection, sustainability, infrastructure development) and to see the city as a forum for intervention.

To learn more about the pilot curriculum and its deployment, check out this blogpost

Urban Ecology in Public Libraries 

Beginning in fall of 2019, the City as Classroom curriculum will be modified for deployment in public libraries as part of Media Lab's Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX) program. We are currently planning a pilot series which will focus on the development of landscape literacy over four sessions.

For questions, please contact Avery Normandin (