City Projects

City Surfing

  1. Visit 5 city sites on the Web. Note the URL of each.
  2. Create a matrix, which lists the cities across the top (Excel is good for this). Down the side, list the elements of each city's website. Note which cities include which elements.
  3. What do the sites have in common? What is unique to the respective cities?
  4. Which site do you prefer? Why?
  5. Which city do you prefer? Why?


Quality of Life

There are several systems which purport to rate the "quality of life" in cities (e.g., Rochester, MN, has been rated as one of the nation's most livable cities; so has Mankato, in a different rating system).

  • What are your key criteria for rating the "quality of life" in a city?
  • Develop a method to measure each of your criteria (preferably using observable, quantitative measures)
  • Rate 5 Minnesota cities on your QOL Scale.


Journal Research

There are any number of journals, written for an educated layperson, which often have articles on cities or city issues. You might look at National Geographic (the November 2002 issue has an article on Megacities) or Discover (the November, 2002 issue has an article on LaMarmotta, a stone-age city recently discovered in Italy) or Smithsonian (the November, 2002 issue has an article on Athens and the January, 2003 issue has an article on medieval Dubrovnik) or Scientific American (the November, 1997 issue has an article on Great Zimbabwe and the February, 1990 issue has an article on medieval Novgorod).

1.      Identify a journal article about a city that is not in the United States (or about a city before there was a United States). The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature in the library could be a place to start.

2.      Describe: Read & summarize the article in your notes.

3.      Compare life in the city you read about to life in your “home town” (for purposes of this and all other assignments, “home town” can be where you are living now, the town in which you grew up, or any other city with which you are familiar. If you live now on a farm and have lived your entire life on a farm, use the town where your family went/goes for shopping, banking, etc.)

4.      Analyze: Based on the comparison you just made, how have people in different times/places met similar problems in a similar fashion? How have they done it in a different fashion? What problems has one group had to face that the other has not?



Essay 1


Write at least a 2-page essay (please type it, using spell-check and grammar check) which addresses the last question in the “Journal Research” project:

“Based on the comparisons you just made, how have people in different times/places met similar problems in a similar fashion? How have they done it in a different fashion? What problems has one group had to face that the other has not?”


Walking Tour



Essay 2


Write at least a 4-page essay (please type it, using spell-check and grammar-check) which addresses the following question (remember to review the grading criteria):

“What do you expect/want from a city you’d live in?”



Poor Hannah's Ice Cream Stand

Read the following story by Mary Lincoln, and consider the questions which follow.

When our daughter, Hannah, was 15 and couldn't find a summer job, my husband and I discussed with her the possibilities available in the free-enterprise system.

We told Hannah how Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and others rose from obscurity through a willingness to work and take risks. So Hannah decided to go into business for herself, selling ice cream, sandwiches, and home-baked goodies at a gas station three miles from our farm in Randolph Center, VT.

We owned a five-by-seven-foot outbuilding that could be moved to the site. while Hannah scrubbed and overhauled the interior, I went to the Town Hall to see if she would need permission from anyone other than the gas-station manager.

The Town Manager leaned back in his chair. "You'll need to see the local zoning board and site-plan review commission," he said.

"Thank you," I said. "They meet this Wednesday, don't they? I'll..."

"Then you'll have to see the Regional Planning commission. If the local and regional commissions give their okay, they'll grant a temporary permit, pending approval by all relevant agencies and subject to your getting the necessary licenses."

I began to take notes.

"When you go to the local meeting," he continued, "we'll need a scale map of the land showing boundaries, traffic flow, sewer and water lines, bathroom facilities, and everything else you'll find in the application." The application fee was $25.

"I think this can save you quite a bit of trouble and expense," said the Town Manager, unrolling a large map of the gas station's 17-acre plot. "Just copy this map, put Hannah's stand in the appropriate place, and fill in the application form."

At the zoning meeting, the Regional Planning Commission decided it need not get involved at all. Aha! I thought. This stuff isn't really so bad.

We moved the stand to the site. Then I visited the Health Department on the matter of the brownies and sandwiches--and the water ( to be carried in closed containers from our house) in which the ice-cream scoops would be rinsed.

The field man from the Health Department removed the kitchen-faucet strainer, lit a match, held it to the edge of the pipe for a minute, ran the water, and caught a sample in a sterile bottle. He asked to see the water-storage facilities.

We went to the cellar, and he examined the cement storage tank. The tank is supplied from a spring. It had heavy plastic sheeting on top.

"You'll have to put a more substantial cover on the tank," he said.

My husband, Ed, replied confidently, "If we have perfect water, we won't have to do anything, right? I mean, the agriculture Department tested our water three weeks ago, and it was absolutely clean."

"These old spring systems are usually not able to pass," said the man from the Health Department. "We do a bacteria test for coliform; if you have so much as one bacterium per 100 milliliters of water, you won't be able to use this water as planned."

What we had was ten! A problem. The inspector told us to drain, scrub and rinse the tank, re-cover it ($32), put a chlorine solution in the spring, and call him when the chlorine taste was gone.

While waiting for the new inspection, I filled in the application for a Home Catering License ($20). Our cows refused to drink the chlorinated water; mile production declined.

The inspector approved the new tank cover and took another sample. Result: another count of ten. He hiked to the spring: eight-inch cement walls, a stone bottom, a cover made of roofing material--but the surrounding fence was broken.

"I suggest you mend the fence, give the spring another cleaning and cover it with a heavy-gauge metal roof," said the inspector, by now our ally. "Perhaps there is a spot in this roof where insects are getting through," he mused sympathetically.

Ed found a metal roof 30 miles and $39 away. Another test . . . and a count of 100-plus! We cleaned the spring again, and replaced the fence ($17). One bacterium.

Then one evening Ed discovered a four-inch garter snake swimming in the spring. In the overflow-pipe strainer was a tiny hole, about big enough for one bacterium riding a reptile. Ed removed the snake, replaced the strainer, flushed the system with chlorine, and called the Health Department. Bacteria: zero.

Next we heard about the State Electrical Inspector to whom, it seems, new commercial enterprises--supermarkets, football stadiums, restaurants and, yes, ice-cream stands--must apply. he made sure that Hannah's wiring was done by a master electrician.

Hannah, meanwhile, had located a used freezer and bought a supply of ice cream. It was sold out in ten days. She bought more.

"What a relief," I said to the owner of the general store. "Looks like smooth sailing from here on."

"How does she do with those lousy tax forms?"

"What tax forms?"

"Room and Meals Tax. She has to fill out quarterly statements and pay taxes."

The Tax Department sent an application for a Room and Meals Tax number, an application for a wholesale number, a form for listing Hannah's assets and liabilities, and directions for posting the $1000 bond required for hew new license. Under "Assets," Hannah put "Used Freezer." When she came to the $1000 bond, she cried.

The Tax Department let Hannah put money in escrow to be held against taxes due or in case Hannah should move out of state in the middle of the night. and so Hannah scooped and baked and made sandwiches. her faith in us and the system was restored as she paid off her loan for start-up expenses.

Then one Sunday morning she found that vandals had broken in, smashed the freezer, stolen her change and ten cans of ice cream, and dumped the remaining ten cans on the floor. It took two days to clean up and get the freezer operation.

Hannah's net profit for ten weeks' hard work: less than $200.

All that was four years ago. Hannah's only remaining problem is the Tax Department. She has, at various times, called Montpelier and explained that she is out of business. Yet she still receives notices telling her she will not be allowed to renew her license if she doesn't get on the ball.

Someday, you may come upon a child selling lemonade from pitchers on a folding table. The child will probably not have a local zoning permit, a licensed power source, or approval from the Health Department. Order a big glass. And say that Hannah's mom sent you.

Questions for consideration:

  • Is the situation described in this story reasonable? Is it fair? Is there a difference?
  • Who is at fault? (Is this a trick question? Is anyone at fault? Does someone have to be at fault whenever bad things happen?)
  • If you ran the zoo, how would you do it next time?


CIP Scenario

The city is preparing a capital improvements plan (CIP) for the next five years. The plans are re-examined annually. The city has annual tax revenues of $4,359,000. The city has adopted as policy a conservative debt/revenue ratio of 10%. The current tax debt is $200,000, which is being retired in equal increments over the next 5 years. The city has been receiving $100,000 a year from federal revenue sharing, and floats a maximum of $750,000 a year in revenue bonds. The city maintains a capital reserve fund of $50,000 each year.

The city council has met in a work session and developed the relative ranking of various categories of capital improvements: Health and Safety are the top priorities, with economic development and fiscal efficiency (ratio of benefits to costs) in the middle, and quality of life and improving the housing stock next.

Of the top 15 capital improvement projects, 3 are slated to be funded specifically by revenue-sharing funds:

        New computers for city hall ($50,000)

        Renovate the library and convert it to current technology ($150,300)

        Renovate the civic auditorium ($741,000)

The capital reserve fund will be used for a new motor grader for the streets department ($150,000)

Two projects are slated for revenue bonds:

        A district heating project ($500,000)

        A harbor access project ($1,634,000)

The remaining projects are to be funded by whatever funds are available:

        Water reservoir repair ($60,000)

        New sewer rodder ($45,000)

        Historic neighborhood area improvements ($185,000)

        Harbor access road ($100,000, with another $3,500,000 due in 5 years)

        Annual sewer reconstruction ($35,000 each year)

        Special oil storage buildings ($121,000)

        Waterline extensions ($45,000)

        New lights for athletic fields ($35,000)

        Upgrading facilities at public cemetery ($37,300)


1.      Which projects (all or part) would you fund in the first year? Which would you hold over to the second year? Which would wait even longer?

2.      In making your decisions, how did you balance technical criteria (the weights) against other more qualitative issues? How did you resolve the problem when weights gave conflicting results?

3.      Compare your selection to that of 3 other classmates. What did you learn from the comparison?

4.      People often argue at election time as if there were one best solution to every problem. What does this exercise suggest to you about that position?



Balancing Working and Living

You may work in groups of 3 on this project.

Suppose you want to design a neighborhood which supports a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds. You have planned a wide range of housing types, to support as diverse a population as possible. But you realize you will also need to provide a diversity of employment opportunities if all those residents are to be able to stay in the neighborhood.

Your neighborhood is 10 blocks (@ 1,500,000 sq. ft.) with a planned capacity of 870 people in 275 housing units, as follows:

  • 25 Class I: Large single-family units with 3 bedrooms on 15,000 sq. ft. lots. Average 4 persons per unit.
  • 40 Class II: Moderate single-family units with 2 bedrooms on 10,000 sq. ft. lots. Average 5 persons per unit.
  • 25 Class III: Duplex buildings with 2 bedrooms in each unit on 16,000 sq. ft. lots. Average 4-6 persons per unit.
  • 40 Class IV: 4-plex apartment buildings with 1 bedroom in each unit on 10,000 sq. ft. lots. Average 2 persons per unit.

Assume that you will achieve a basic/service ratio of 1:2.5. The wage scale for each of the household classes is:

  • Class I (Managerial & Professional) --$40/hr.
  • Class II (Salaried Worker) --$25/hr.
  • Class III owner (Supervisory worker)--$15/hr.
  • Class III renter (Laborer) --$10/hr.
  • Class IV (Laborer) --$6/hr.

Your job is to plan employment for an average of 1 person for each of these households.

  1. What are the basic & service businesses which you will attract to your neighborhood? How many employees of each class does each business need to employ?
  2. What is the purchasing power of this neighborhood? How does the service sector reflect the neighborhood income profile?
  3. Assuming you must meet the following space standards, how much space is required for the employment you have specified? What is the ratio of residential to employment space?

Land Use Type

Space per employee

Parking space per employee


250 s.f.

150 s.f.


400 s.f.

150 s.f.


1,000 s.f.

300 s.f.

4. What additional types of space would you normally expect to find in a neighborhood?


Build a Block

1. Form a group of 4 people. Using the following standards, each member in your group is to develop a plan for 1 city block on which they would be willing to live. Draw the plan to scale using grid paper. You do not need to include allowances for streets-they will be on the edges of the paper-but you will need to include alley allowances if you use them:

Minimum Population

100 persons/block

1 block

5 Acres (215,000 sf)

1 lot

8,000 sf minimum

front setback

35 ft.

side setback

5 ft.

rear setback

10 ft.

street right-of-way

60 ft.


Housing specifications are as follows:

Housing Type

# persons/ unit

Sq. ft./structure

Sq. ft./parking

















Evaluate each others' blocks on the criteria of attractiveness, convenience, and cost effectiveness.

2. Working with 2 other groups, combine your residential areas into a district of at least 12 blocks. The district must have an average density of 120 persons per block (some of your blocks may have to be reconfigured), and must provide employment for at least 100 people (in addition to the required number of residences). Places of employment must include adequate parking for employees and customers.

3. Combine 3 districts into a single neighborhood. Include whatever other "amenities" and "services" you think are necessary for a successful neighborhood (hint: schools? parks? what else?)


Design with Nature

Refer to the attached topographic map.

Locate five sites where you could develop at least one block (250 x 560 ft.) of housing.

  • Locate five good sites on the map
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each site using the following criteria:





































  • Explain how you might minimize any environmental weaknesses of each site


Landowners' Game

You own rental property in the city. The neighborhood is an older one, and it is starting to show its age. The sidewalks are cracked, the streets are crumbling, and the garbage doesn't always get collected. The neighborhood is changing; it used to be a working-class area, but now more and more of the residents don't seem to have regular work. Many have given up looking. Your buildings are past their prime, too. They need new roofs, the windows are no longer airtight (many even have broken panes), the plumbing is starting to rot and the electrical service is antique. Needless to say, all your buildings need paint.

It will cost money to make the repairs, and you're not sure you'll get it back in rents. If you spruce up your place and no one else does, you'll hardly be able to raise your rents at all because the buildings will still be in a tough neighborhood. And the other landowners-who put nothing into repairs-will be able to raise their rents just as much as you do! On the other hand, if a bandwagon gets started and most of the buildings are rehabilitated, then the neighborhood could get a reputation as a "hot" place to live and you could get more back in rent than you paid for repairs. If enough of the landowners are involved, you might even convince the city to initiate a special "code enforcement" program to push the holdouts into line.

What do you do?

The Play: Each person in your group (it is easiest in groups of 10) represents a landowner in the district. You must decide whether to improve your property this month or not. You must make your decision in private without colluding with your fellow landowners. Working together violates the antitrust act and will result in Federal prosecution.

As each of you announces your vote (written in advance so you are not tempted to cheat), it is recorded on a scoring sheet. Once the voting is done, each player’s "earnings" (or losses) are recorded, using the schedule below. Play continues for 10 rounds or until everyone in the group votes the same way 3 times in a row.

Goal: Maximize Rents

Cost of improvements: $20/unit

Return from improvements:

% upgrade

$ rent increase













*holdouts fined $10

When the game is completed, tally the scores and calculate the net gain for the neighborhood and the top rent-earner in your neighborhood. If your neighborhood stopped playing before ten rounds elapsed, count the unplayed rounds as earning the same the previous three rounds.

The Analysis: Compare your group's performance to that of other groups in the class:

  • What seems to be the best strategy for maximizing rents for all the landowners in a neighborhood?
  • What seems to be the best strategy for maximizing the rents to a single landowner?
  • What is the relation between these two strategies (i.e., how does the pursuit of one affect the pursuit of the other)?
  • How did the dynamics of the players in your group affect the outcome in your neighborhood?
  • Summary: What do these activities tell you about the dynamics of neighborhood growth, decline, and removal? Why are there slumlords? Why isn’t everyone a slumlord?


Design for Living

What if...

Suppose the Mankato Area Foundation received a generous gift from an anonymous donor, including a gift of land and funds to initiate the development of a new housing complex which would be welcoming to new migrants to the region. The land is the equivalent of approximately 4 blocks and is within walking distance of a major shopping area. You are one of several developing design proposals for the new housing complex and related amenities.

  1. Describe anticipated residents of your complex (age, income, lifestyle, etc.). For the population identified, list their needs and wants as they relate to the housing complex. What design solutions will satisfy the needs & wants you identified?
  2. Develop a sketch or a plan of the 4-block area which includes your proposed design solutions. Include any additional written explanation needed to make the design concepts clear. Why is your design the best of all solutions for the group you have identified?


Essay 3

Write at least a 4-page essay (please type it, using spell-check and grammar-check) which addresses the following question (remember to review the grading criteria):

“What do you expect from the government (city/State/Federal, elected & staff) for the city you’d live in?”


Minniapple Game

Welcome to a meeting of the Miniapple City Council. Like any city council, you are divided into factions based on the areas of the city from which you have been elected and whose point of view you represent in the council.

Miniapple is divided into six wards. Each ward has unique socio-economic and physical characteristics which can be described as follows:

Ward I: The old deteriorated downtown and residential slum. The CBD is in bad shape needing new investment in the form of loans for new businesses and improvements of infrastructure. The people who live around the CBD occupy old apartments and single family homes converted into rooming houses. The residents are primarily elderly and low-income families. The majority of the public housing units in the city are in Ward I. Obviously, there is a need for housing rehabilitation, better schools and services, and playgrounds.

Ward II: Blue Collar (Joe Sixpack) neighborhood that includes the major factory in the city. The factory is a real stinker that pollutes the air in Ward II and causes constant noise. The housing in the ward is single family detached but is old and deteriorated. Ward II has a large number of public housing units, second only to Ward I. There are inadequate schools, parks, and the streets need repair.

Ward III: Incumbent Upgrader neighborhood with a mixture of middle class and working people. They are very proud of their housing and have spent large amounts to fix them up. Most of the housing is single family and was built after World War II. Their main concern is "keeping the neighborhood" nice and improving a neighborhood commercial district.

Ward IV: Gentrification Neighborhood. Young professionals have moved back to the city and are fixing up old historic homes. They have put a lot of time and energy (not to mention dollars) in preserving the city's only historic district and they want to protect their investment.

Ward V: Upper Middle Class Neighborhood consisting of businessmen. This ward has new homes (built in 1950's and 1960's) with large, well maintained yards. The schools are very good and most of the city parks are in this area.

Ward VI: Upper Class Neighborhood. Inhabitants are doctors, lawyers and bankers with big bucks! The homes are all over one acre and are very luxurious.

Physical Characteristics of Miniapple

Miniapple is a river town. The eastern side of the river (Wards I, II, & III) are in the flood plain while the western side (Wards IV, V & VI) are either on the bluffs or on top of the bluffs above the flood plain. The original settlement of the city was in Ward I and IV. Ward VI has the best views of river valley while Wards I & II have the most problems with flooding.

Issue before the Council

Today, you are attending a special meeting of the Council to consider the Fair Housing Plan developed by the Planning Dept. and to decide whether to accept the plan as proposed or to modify it.

The Fair Housing Plan

The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has notified Miniapple that it will not receive any more housing and community development funds unless it develops a plan for allocating low-income family housing throughout the city. The HUD guidelines require that these family units be duplexes and 4-plexes and that they be "scattered site" or located in those wards that have not previously had subsidized housing. Since all of the public housing now exist in Wards I and II, the Planning Dept. devised the following "fair share plan" for the 200 units HUD allocated the city:

Ward I-no units Ward IV-35 units

Ward 11-25 units Ward V-50 units

Ward 111-40 units Ward VI-50 units

Presentations at the Council Meeting

Following the presentation of the Planning Director of the Fair Housing Plan, the next person who got up to speak to the Council was the Mayor. The Mayor lives in Ward V and he understands the strong pressure that is being applied against the plan but he endorses the plan because it is the "best we can get" and calls on all his "friends" in Ward V who helped him get elected to support this plan. The next speaker was the union president from Ward II-he thinks this is a good plan because it will make wards V and VI take a share of public housing because up to now it has all been in ward I and II. Finally, the representatives from the powerful neighborhood organizations in each ward get up and present their positions on the plan:

Ward I--Thinks the plan is great! Too many poor people are concentrated in this ward and "they have a chance to enjoy the fresh air and good schools out in wards V & VI."

Ward II--Support the plan because other wards will not be forced to take public housing but will oppose it if "through wheeling and dealing, wards V & VI do not have to take their 50 units each."

Ward III--Oppose the plan because they believe 40 units is too much for their neighborhood. They have put in a lot of money fixing up the housing in their area and fear that this large number of units will "lower property values and discourage other folks from fixing up their homes."

Ward IV--They oppose the plan because they want to save the historic homes in their area and do not see how you can build 35 units and still do this.

Wards V and VI--Strongly oppose the plan! They have hired an attorney who argues it makes no sense to build public housing in these wards where land costs are so expensive and where low-income people would be too far from jobs and social services. They threaten to sue the city if plan is adopted.

Council Task

The council decides to break into ward caucus meetings. Each ward must consider the information it has heard and decide on three things:

  1. Is your position in favor or in opposition to plan,
  2. If you oppose, what is your alternative allocation plan? What are you willing to "give" to the other wards to get them to accept more units?
  3. If you favor the plan, what will you do to convince others to accept it or what would you expect in return for accepting more units in your ward?


After your ward members meet for 15 minutes, be prepared to report out to the council on your position on the above 3 points and to take a vote on the plan or a modification of the plan.

Assessment of the Game: As you began the game, you brought certain assumptions about the best solution and the most likely way the game would proceed.

  • What turned out the way you expected? Why?
  • What turned out differently than you expected? Why?
  • To what extent is the decision-making process (at least as exemplified in your group) a rational process?



The Impact Wheel

You are a member of a planning team assigned the task of analyzing the impacts of a proposed residential development in a large (200,000 people) Upper Midwest city.

Proposal: Xeron Development, Inc., has proposed that a currently vacant 600 acre site in the southeast quadrant of the city be developed into "Happy Acres," a new-town-in-town consisting of 6,000 units. The breakdown for the units by housing type and number of occupants is:

Housing type

# units

# people














The single-family units will be on small lots, sell for an average price of $125,000 and have a total market value of $375 million.

The townhouses will sell for $80,000 each and have a total market value of $160 million.

The apartments will rent for $450/month and have a total market value of $540 million.

Attached you will find 3 maps to illustrate the nature of the development:

  • Existing Facilities Map: identifies the location of the site near the central usines district and adjacent to the river, a single family residential neighborhood, a shopping center, railroad tracks, and a school. On the site, you will notice a few sewer lines, a small park, a few roads, and a sewage lagoon across the railroad tracks from the site.
  • Development Limitations Map: identifies environmental features of the site.
  • Proposed Development Plan: identifies the pattern of development on the site with high (apts.) and medium (townhouse) development around the new lake that will be built and single family housing on the eastern side of the site. A new neighborhood center and commercial office park will also be provided.

City Obligation: The city will be expected to provide financing for new sanitary and storm sewers, to maintain the streets and parks, and operate the neighborhood center.


  1. Identify the positive and negative impacts that can be expected in each of the following areas:
    • Physical environment
    • Economic impacts on the private economy
    • Social impacts on adjacent residents
    • Governmental impacts
  2. Analyze each impact for each of the areas:
    • Rate each impact on a scale from A (very positive) to E (very negative)
    • Explain the reason for each rating (refer to the physical characteristics of the site, the number of people who will be living there, etc.).
  3. Summary Questions:
    • Does every problem have a solution? If yes, how do you find it? If no, what do you do in those cases?
    • What rules/criteria did you find yourself using when you had to make hard choices? List them. Then rank them in order, such that rule 1 must always be followed; rule 2 must be followed unless it violates rule 1; rule 3 must be followed unless it violates rule 1 or rule 2; etc.
    • What happens when your rules come in conflict with the rules held by others in your group/class/community? How do you handle it?

Essay 4

Write at least a 4-page essay (please type it, using spell-check and grammar-check) which addresses the following question (remember to review the grading criteria):

“What does it take to solve the ‘wicked problems’ of cities?”

NOTE: A “wicked problem” has a specific definition (as it is used in policy analysis, operations research, and engineering. It means a problem that

  • Is ill-defined
  • Has solutions that are better or worse, but no “right” or “wrong” solution
  • Has no objective measure of success
  • Has no alternative solutions already given (if there are any alternatives, they will need to be discovered)



1996 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 17 August 2003