New York Experienced: An Urban Case Study

Open to students entering grades 9 through 12 or freshman year of college in the fall
I - June 29–July 17, 2020
Days & Time:
Monday–Friday, 9:10 –11:00 a.m. and 1:10–3:00 p.m.
Vincent Drybala and staff

“I learned a lot about the history of the city, its people and infrastructure, and why it became the world capital we know today.” — From a program course evaluation

Course Description

An experiential, immersive course designed for students interested in the urban environment, culture, literature, history, and public policy. The course comprises four interconnected modules (see below). Two days each week are reserved for fieldwork in New York City with city policymakers, philanthropists, and artists.

New York City: A History of People, Politics, and Place
What is New York City’s relationship to the American Dream? How does the City grow from its origins as a peripheral colonial outpost into a world capital? This overview explores New York's complicated historical origins, dynamic economy, tumultuous politics, multiethnic and multiracial populace, and innovative architecture as a basis for the other aspects in the course. Students are exposed to methods of field study, visual analysis, and critical interpretation.

Writing the City
How is our experience of New York – the city’s projected image and self-image – shaped by literature about the city? Using short stories, poems, popular song, journalism, and essays, students investigate the connection between the city and the manner in which it has been exported as a cultural icon. Beyond this examination, writing in the field enables students to reflect upon their experiences in the city and acts to tie the various threads of the course together while remaining true to the singular experience of each course participant.

Urban Place Design
What places make for an inclusive, successful, lively, and resilient city? We study various answers to this question – public/private partnerships (e.g. Bryant Park), the NYC Department of Transportation Plaza Program, public parks (e.g. Central Park), privately-owned public spaces, and business improvement districts – in order to learn the fundamental dynamics of public space in New York City. Armed with that knowledge, we select a location and design our own proposals for public spaces. We also examine how previous urban designers, such as Robert Moses, sought to overcome the challenges faced in constructing (and reconstructing) the city – and how those solutions often have ramifications for today’s NYC. Fieldwork: visiting and evaluating public plazas, meeting with designers and policymakers at the NY Department of Transportation, Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, and Times Square Alliance.

Emerging Urban Issues
Course instructors and invited experts introduce students to key policy, financial, and legal issues confronting American urban areas today. Topics include urban sustainability, green energy and transportation, affordable housing, urban planning, and zoning. Current events illustrate the issues facing America's cities. We examine recent developments such as High Line Park, the pedestrianization of Broadway, bike lanes, the Hudson and Atlantic Yards proposals, new sports stadiums, and the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. In addition to engaging in dynamic class discussions about contemporary affairs, students work with invited experts from the public and private sector, devise their own policy memos, and visit relevant locations in New York City, acquiring a first-hand understanding of particular approaches to urban issues. Through the consideration of race, class, technology, environment, social welfare, and public policy, students acquire a solid grounding in the historical origins of contemporary urban issues.


Vincent Drybala

Vincent Drybala is the English Department Chair at the Ethical Culture Fieldston Upper School. For the past decade, he has taught English classes for grades 9 through 12, and he has also served as the Interdisciplinary Advocate for the Upper School. He helped to create Fieldston's City Semester program, which was influenced by his work with Columbia University Summer Program's New York Experienced course. Vincent received his B.A. in English from Allegheny College and his M.F.A. in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. 

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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.