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The Weitzman School of Design started a new initiative named the History of the Built Environment which aims to promote scholarship on city planning and urban history. Credit: Mona Lee

A new initiative at the Weitzman School of Design aims to promote scholarship on city planning and urban history.

The initiative, named the History of the Built Environment, hopes to make Penn the “premier place to study urban planning, landscape, and architecture within its social, political, and cultural contexts,” according to Weitzman News. As part of the initiative, the Department of City and Regional Planning will hire an assistant or associate professor and support a five-year doctoral program. The doctoral program will sponsor four fellows, each for a five-year time frame. The initiative is being led by Francesca Russello Ammon, a faculty member of the City and Regional Planning Department and the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. 

As part of the doctoral program, the Department of City and Regional Planning will create yearly foundations courses and the new faculty member will develop specialized seminars with support from current faculty. Ammon hopes this initiative will eventually grow into a permanent course within the Weitzman School. 

The History of the Built Environment initiative aims to rethink the way the history of planning and architecture is being taught, according to Ammon.

“When one thinks about the history of planning or the history of architecture, there’s a strand of scholarship that privileges the people conventionally seen as experts — often white men who popularized the big ideas and had, perhaps, great municipal power,” Ammon told Weitzman News. 

The initiative hopes to sponsor research on urban development similar to Ammon’s past projects. Ammon's most recent project examined Society Hill, a neighborhood within Center City, and how its redevelopment plans in 1958-1961 were able to emphasize preservation of its area’s historic landmarks while still transforming the neighborhood, according to Penn Today

The History of the Built Environment initiative will concentrate on people throughout history who were able to rebuild cities by pulling from their own lived experiences. Ammon hopes this method of studying will foster a more complex understanding of the history of urban planning. 

“For decades, Penn and Weitzman have trained some of the most influential designers in the world,” Ammon told Weitzman News. “I’d like us also to become known as the best place for planners, preservationists, architects, and landscape architects to study history.”

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