Although I think Prof. Wright is very cool and nice, I found this course lacking in both historical facts and architectural theory. I would recommend Elizabeth Blackmar's History of the American Landscape over this course, even if you are more of an architectural history person. I found Prof. Wright's classes to be more about spouting political opinion, with or without any facts to back these opinions up, than about allowing students to draw their conclusions on their own terms.
I'm an Urban Studies major, but it was definitely not this class that "cemented" my decision as another reviewer wrote. Gutfreund takes his lectures directly from the readings so there's no point in going to class. He thinks he's being helpful by writing the list of the five or ten largest cities every decade and their populations on the blackboard when you could look at the tables in the books and find the exact same stuff only better organized. I stopped going to this class mid-way through, and didn't do the readings. He said to the class the day before the final: "You know, if you skipped the last 2 months of this class you're not going to get an A." This is hilarious because when he said this, I thought he was talking just to me . . . but I still got an A in the class. Don't take this class if you want to hear a nuanced approach to cities; take it only if you know nothing about cities and want a large lecture class and 3 easy credits.
Wow, what a great class! I went into this class considering a major in Urban Studies, and History of American Cities totally cemented that decision. Professor Gutfreund knows everything about cities in America, and like the other reviewers say, he wants us to know everything too. It was not often that I took less than six pages of notes per class. However, everything he talks about is extremely interesting, and he expertly ties all the minutia into the overarching themes he presents. His lectures are organized and coherent, and very easy to follow. The professor was also very friendly and approachable, and would stick around for ten or fifteen minutes after every class to talk with the students. In this class, I didnÂ’t only learn the history of cities, but rather the whole story of how people live in America. As a displaced suburbanite here at Columbia, Professor Gutfreund helped me understand why my hometown, and New York City, exist as they do in the present. And that is the best way to sum up this class: it teaches you not only the Â“whatÂ” of history, but also explains the Â“why?Â” of the present.
This class was incredible, it was fascinating and comprehensive, but very fast-paced. I used two notebooks, and filled every single line and some margins. I learned so much about so many interesting things, but the information was presented in a clear and logical manner, with readings that were both interesting and helpful. My only complaint was that the professor wasn't so accomadating when I had a family disaster and asked to re-schedule the midterm. His only response was that I should go through the bureaucracy. However, professor personality is not so crucial in a large lecture (which this is) so don't let it deter you. Section, which should make up for that is totally skippable, and nearly useless.
Gutfriend is somewhat knowledgeable about cities, he's aware he's not that intelligent and tries to compensate by spewing out every useless piece of information he's gathered into lectures. If you actually listened to everything he said, you'd have aprox 6 pages of notes per class. Ridiculous. He then has the nerve to put minor terms on exam ("grain elevator"). Essays however, are quite vague and open ended. Discussion section is a pain, particularily if your TA is named Nancy. Her goal is to put you on the spot and embarrass you. She basically fires questions at everything you say and then attempts to turn your fellow classmates against you. Try to get the older male TA. Grading isn't based on what you wrote so much as your style and grammar.