Garvin juggles city planning work, teaching



Professor Alexander Garvin said he does not let his day job seep into his classroom.

“The role of a pedagogue is very different from the role of a professional,” he said.

Yet for his students, Garvin’s class provides a unique and hands-on approach to the real, professional world of urban planning.

In its 36th year, Garvin’s “Introduction to the Study of the City” teaches students about American cities, and explores the reasons why some cities are more successful than others. In a dark room in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Garvin points to the projection screen, showing slides of map grids, old photos from years long passed, and recent pictures taken by Garvin himself. The class meets once a week from 6:45 to 9:15 p.m. in order to give Garvin time to travel from his day job in New York City, where he is in urban planning.

Recently, Garvin has been spending most of his time serving as Vice President for Planning, Design, and Development for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, or LMDC, whose most publicized responsibility is rebuilding the World Trade Center site. Shortly after his appointment last February, LMDC issued an invitation to the world to design a plan for the site.

Garvin oversaw the selection process, and worked closely with the seven teams whose designs had been chosen from 406 applicants. In making his selections, Garvin said he worked with numerous analysts, consultants, and some of the greatest designers in the world.

“It was not an ‘I like’ thing. It was a serious effort on the part of the state, city, and LMDC to get a great design. And we did get a great design,” Garvin said.

LMDC announced the winning design by Studio Libeskind last month.

Garvin said he is currently on the phone several times a week, negotiating contracts, working out demands, and speaking with the Port Authority, which owns the site. He said he also examines effects on the environment, design regulations, and site plans.

“It’s cool to have a professor that’s involved with what’s happening in the world right now,” said Ashley Heeren ’05, who plans to major in architecture. “You know he knows what he’s talking about.”

Garvin’s “Introduction to the Study of the City” includes a mixture of assignments, games, lectures and reading. The games provide a real-world look at the process of building a city.

Garvin said he first conceived of the idea of using a game for instructional purposes during the second session of the first year he taught the class, in the fall of 1967.

“It’s dull to lecture about what the bank believes, what the mayor believes, what the department store believes,” Garvin said. “How does one get across there is a competition across all players?”

Throughout the class’ history, there have been dozens of different games in which students are assigned roles in developing a city. Garvin said he is especially interested in illustrating what he described as “public action that generates a widespread reaction in market reactions.”

The most recent game Garvin said he assigned to his class involved developing malls in New Haven.

Garvin also currently serves as Commissioner of the New York Planning Committee and as Managing Director of Planning for NYC2012, the committee in charge of bringing the Summer Olympics to New York. He has also been a professional consultant for Baton Rouge, the Palm Beach Civic Association, and Markham, Ontario. He is the author of “The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t,” “Parks, Recreation and Open Space: A 21st Century Agenda,” and “Urban Parks and Open Space.”

His extensive resume has brought him acclaim from students, major architectural players, and many in between.

“I have the utmost respect for him — his knowledge and abilities,” said Michael Haverland, an assistant professor at Yale School of Architecture and one of Garvin’s former students. “On a personal level, he encouraged me to understand the power of architecture and planning to have an effect on the landscape, and constantly encourages me to make sure that my work gets built and that plans are stewarded through implementation to avoid remaining on the shelf– That takes an incredible amount of experience, energy, persuasion, presentation skill, and focus.”

Garvin said he continually revises his lectures and games to adapt to the concerns of the present, and has been doing so since the first class he taught, when “Introduction to the Study of the City” began as a Trumbull College seminar.

“I love Yale,” Garvin said. “As long as there are students who want to take the class, I will be there.”

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