Main Page

From Prof. Elston's Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search


MHC Seminar III: Science and Technology in New York City

This course is one of four undergraduate honors seminars taken by all Macaulay Honors College students. Each honors seminar is a writing-, technology-, and New York City-intensive course designed to address the many facets of NYC.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: Nature and a Sustainable City

The objective for this course is to give each student an understanding of NYC’s natural environment, a working knowledge of the major urban systems that make living in NYC possible, healthy and enjoyable, and the relation of those systems to the sustainability of the City.

“Sustainable development is that which meets all the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” - The United Nations Brundtland Commission, 1987
“Sustainable communities are defined as towns and cities that have taken steps to remain healthy over the long term. Sustainable communities have a strong sense of place. They have a vision that is embraced and actively promoted by all of the key sectors of society, including businesses, disadvantaged groups, environmentalists, civic associations, government agencies, and religious organizations. They are places that build on their assets and dare to be innovative. The communities value healthy ecosystems, use resources efficiently and actively seek to retain and enhance a locally based economy. There is a pervasive volunteer spirit that is rewarded by concrete results. Partnerships between and among government, the business sector, and nonprofit organizations are common. Public debate in these communities is engaging, inclusive, and constructive. Unlike traditional community development approaches, sustainability strategies emphasize: the whole community (instead of just disadvantaged neighborhoods); ecosystem protection; meaningful and broad-based citizen participation; and economic self-reliance.” - Institute for Sustainable Communities

The concept of sustainability has a special meaning when applied to NYC. The intense concentrations of the populations and the mass transit mean that the population, on average, produces less pollution other residents of the United States. The intense density of population also means that the natural land features have almost entirely disappeared. The geology, waterways and the climate that characterize the NYC islands at the edge of the Ocean are the reason the City exists, but the concentration of the populations are now affecting these essential features.

In 2007 Mayor Bloomberg announced his PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York City, a plan to improve the sustainability of NYC and the quality of life for the eight million existing residents and one million additional people. The plan recognizes that we have an absolute limit on the land within the City that is available for housing, roads and parks to accommodate growth in our population, and political and social constraints may significantly limit our supply of clean water.

The Plan focuses on improving the efficiency of our urban systems and reducing their impacts on the air, water and land that will affect the long term sustainability of the City -- as well as “tangible barriers to improving our daily lives: housing that is too often out of reach, neighborhoods without enough playgrounds, the aging water and power systems in need of upgrades, congested roads and subways.”

This seminar course will consider how implementation of PlaNYC will improve the major systems that are essential to the existence of cities: the land use, water, the energy, the transportation, food supply and waste removal systems, as well as examine how the implementation of the Plan will reduce NYC’s impact on the natural environment – the land, air, water, plants and wildlife. At the end of the course, each student will write a critique of the Mayor’s Plan and recommend ways to improve it.


Class Schedule

The class schedule details class themes, assignments, readings, and guest speakers by date. Click here for the Fall 2009 class schedule.


Footprint - Each student will be expected to complete an assessment of their personal environmental footprint and to identify opportunities to reduce their environmental footprint, and be prepared to discuss their footprint in the second meeting of the seminar on September 1st. Each student will submit a 3-5 page (double spaced) paper with his/her personal assessment on September 8th, as specified on the attached Class Schedule. Detailed guidelines for the Environmental Footprint paper are provided by clicking the link.

Reaction Papers - Each student will submit a 3-5 page (double spaced) paper on two of following four subjects, your choice, based on the reading material and other material:

  • Land Use, Sprawl and Transportation
  • Energy, Climate Change and Air Quality
  • Water Supply, Water Quality and Solid Waste
  • Food

The Reaction Paper should briefly present the key themes of the reading material, the students’ thoughts and reactions, and issues or questions raised by the reading material. The Reaction Papers should demonstrate that you have read and understood the assigned reading by summarizing the concepts in the material. All papers should be carefully proofread. Email papers to Prof. Elston with the file saved as "title.lastname" so they are easy distinguish.

Critiques - At the end of the course, each student will write a 10-12 page (double spaced) critique of PlaNYC and recommend ways to improve it. The paper will be organized around a list of specific recommendations addressed to the Mayor and provide justification for each recommendation.

Food and Energy Research Teams

By September 4th, we will form three or four Research Teams. Each Team will be assigned a “mini” research project and will produce short paper, PowerPoint or set of charts on the assigned subject and present to the Seminar on the schedule specified on the Class Schedule.

The teams will focus on a “major” research subject within a single class project focused on FOOD and ENERGY.

There will be an additional project focused on Environmental Benefits Valuation, EBV.


  • A PowerPoint that presents the results of the research;
  • A Mediawiki page that is coordinated with the other Research Teams and is part of an integrated Mediawiki presentation; and
  • A resource library that identifies the top-10 PDFs that are most pertinent to the research subject (no more than 30 pages).
  • A video incorporating still images, ppt slides, video, and voice over. 10 minute maximum.


  • Powerpoint
  • Flipvideo & iMovie
  • iPhoto
  • UMapper ElstonMHC
  • Mediawiki


Guest Experts

I have arranged for guest experts to join and lead a class as indicated on the Seminar Schedule. Read a bit about the guests currently scheduled to join us:


Grading will be based on:

  • Class Preparation and Participation (20%) – This assessment will be based on three factors: (1) Preparation for class and active engagement in class discussions, (2) Attendance – Students may not miss classes except under extraordinary (legitimate and documented) circumstances, and (3) Punctuality - students will be expected to be on time for class. A pattern of tardiness will count against your grade.
  • Research Team work (20%)
  • Individual written critique and recommendation for improving the PlaNYC (30 %)
  • Environmental footprint assessment and two Reaction Papers (30%)

Classroom Conduct

Students are expected to be attentive during the seminar and to come to the seminar prepared with questions that relate to the reading assignments. Students will also be expected to comply with the following during the seminar:

  • No telephone use (voice or texting) during class. Cell phones are to be turned off during class.
  • No food in class, unless you are very hungry - water, coffee and other soft drinks are OK
  • No email or Web browsing - Computer use for taking notes is encouraged, but any student that uses their computer for other business during a seminar session will be prohibited from bringing their computer to class.

Academic Honesty

Academic dishonesty is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Cheating, forgery, plagiarism and collusion in dishonest acts undermine the college's educational mission and students' personal and intellectual growth. All students are expected to bear individual responsibility for their work and to uphold the ideal of academic integrity. Any student who attempts to compromise or devalue the academic process will be sanctioned.

Common Events

As MHC University Scholars, you are required to attend the Common Events for your Seminar III during the Fall 2009 semester.


Professor Elston maintains a course basecamp site. Click here for detailed instructions on how to access our Seminar Basecamp Site.

Using the Wiki

  • To work on your own bio page - click your name at the top of the screen.

  • Consult the comprehensive User's Guide for more detailed information.

Personal tools