Course: GEO 133 Urban Geography
Describe the course in which you used service-learning.
I anchor GEO133 around a project entitled “Contested Chicago – Pilsen and Gentrification” which I initiated in 2003 in association with a community organization, the Pilsen Alliance, and the Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning. It has since become recognized by the Department of Geography and Steans Center as an innovative service learning collaboration for the way it integrates teaching, service and research. My objectives in GEO133 are three-fold: Firstly, to provide a rich learning experience for students; secondly, to aid the Pilsen Alliance in their campaigns around gentrification, displacement, property tax and zoning issues; and, thirdly, to make complex policies like Tax Increment Financing understandable to both students and community residents.
I have designed GEO133 to use lectures, field trips, seminar discussions and data analysis. In a single quarter, student learning occurs in three different locations: the classroom, computer laboratory and Pilsen. In lectures, I outline the geography, history, and theories of gentrification, illustrating these with documentary films, PowerPoint presentations and guest speakers. I require students to read major geographical peer-reviewed articles on gentrification and urban development, and balance these with shorter essays from newspapers and magazines. This reading assignment strategy enables students to grasp the complex information presented in scholarly articles and relate it to Chicago-area examples of similar urban processes. Students prepare questions and discussion notes based on these readings which are used in classroom group work, enabling peer-explanation and discussion of the material. After these conversations, I emphasize the most pertinent factors and clarify any remaining misunderstandings. In field trips to Pilsen I highlight recent disputes over, and locations of, condominium development, housing demolitions and community activism.
For the experiential learning requirement I allocate every student one block of Pilsen to explore. Students visit their blocks, assessing the structural qualities of the properties and their current uses, and then I show them how to collect publicly available data from City of Chicago, Cook County Assessor and Cook County Treasurer web-sites about zoning legislation, property taxes, building permits, etc. After completing this empirical research, students compile their data into an Excel file and, with my guidance, produce graphs and charts to illustrate a final report about housing development in Pilsen. The student reports are graded for course credit and are then shared with the Pilsen Alliance. Students have told me that the methods of data collection and analytical techniques I introduce in GEO133 help them pursue careers in urban planning, real estate and community organizing. Further, students feel ownership of the data and expertise in relation to their block. Most satisfying to me, many have said that GEO133 is one of their most important courses at DePaul.
The life of GEO133 does not stop at the end of the quarter. Throughout the year, I employ students to collate all the Excel databases produced in GEO133 into a single database, which now contains six years of data on approximately 5000 properties. Diagrams and information from this compiled data set are provided to the Pilsen Alliance on demand. One of my most important findings from this compiled data was that around 35% of homeowners in Pilsen do not claim property tax exemptions to which they are entitled. This led to the Pilsen Alliance and Cook County Assessor hosting workshops to aid local residents to claim exemptions, saving the area's low income residents thousands of dollars. There is not space to recount everything that I have achieved outside the classroom as a result of teaching GEO133, so I will provide some highlights. Since 2003 GEO133 has enabled me to:
- write, present and publish scholarly articles (including some with co-authorship from DePaul students)
- compose two reports on the Contested Chicago project's findings
- produce a short bilingual book exploring gentrification in Chicago
- curate art gallery exhibitions of photographs and student-generated maps associated with the project
- give community presentations in Pilsen and elsewhere about the project's techniques and findings
- speak about the project to both English- and Spanish-language local radio, television and newspapers
- utilize LA&S Undergraduate Research Assistantships and other DePaul fellowships to enable students to conduct and develop data analysis
- supervise DePaul students to work as interns for the Pilsen Alliance, where they have helped to build the organization's web-site, archive materials, review information, attend City of Chicago council hearings, etc.
- present testimony on housing and zoning to the City of Chicago council
I greatly enjoy the collaboration with students and community members that I have developed through GEO133 and look forward to continuing this work. I am proud to have made GEO133 is a course that has an impact far beyond the classroom.
What’s your understanding of service-learning?
Service learning gives students the opportunity to engage with the local community in a meaningful manner, sharing experiences and knowledge as they learn from service.
Why did you choose to use service-learning in this course?
Because service learning is what faculty need to do. Research needs to be engaged with the places in which we live and work. Service learning means that students (and faculty) have an impact on communities beyond the classroom, it breaks down barriers between the ‘ivory tower’ and the community.
What were some of the benefits of doing so?
The benefits of service learning are wide ranging. I think that at DePaul, service is our mission and service learning gives faculty the opportunity to integrate service, teaching and even research in a structured and supportive environment. It helps you learn more about our students, the city and communities in which we live, and brings the resources of DePaul into positive contact with the community.
What were some of the challenges of doing so?
The biggest challenge is that because you are working with community members, who are busy with other things and not really paying attention to course schedules and dates when grades are due, there are many opportunities for miscommunication, student concerns, and a feeling that you can be imposing on the good will of the community. The challenge to the faculty member is to manage these different stakeholders and ensure that students can be successful in the course, and successful in their community work.
How well did students’ community experiences complement the academic learning in the course?
In GEO133 – Urban Geography Experiential Learning, the lectures are about gentrification, theories of urban development, census data, and explanations of real estate practices and policy regulations. These can be abstract, but put a student on the ground in Pilsen and studying neighborhood change, and these classroom experiences and the required readings that accompany them are seen through different eyes.Students see first hand how the neighborhood and its residents are impacted upon by housing change in a very immediate manner.
How well did students’ community experiences encourage critical thinking about social issues?
Seeing what is happening in Chicago’s neighborhoods, lead students to ask questions and begin thinking critically about how things are connected. Particularly when they reflect and put themselves into the picture. Many of them want to buy condos in hip neighborhoods, but GEO133 asks them to consider what that means for the neighborhood and its existing residents. This leads to thinking about critical social issues like distribution of resources, wealth, access to political power, differential abilities to effect change. It also gives them the opportunity to engage with their peers about what they are experiencing as part of the service learning course, and many begin to think critically about how their friends and families perceive Chicago’s neighborhoods.
In what ways was the Steans Center involved with your course?
The Steans Center established my initial contact with the community organization, has supported our work through student internships and faculty fellowships, and provided a resource for discussing ideas and best practices.
What do you consider to be the impact of teaching with service-learning on your students?
Many students tell me that the GEO133 course is the most influential they took at DePaul. They often comment that for an institution that preaches urban engagement and community service, it is only a CbSL course that gets them outside of the Loop/Lincoln Park, to encounter other people and parts of Chicago.
What do you consider to be the impact of teaching with service-learning on you?
I’ve learned a lot about parts of Chicago I would not typically have been engaged with. Most of all, however, it has been an amazing experience to have a long-term partnership with a community organization, getting to know the people and the place, the issues that they face, and to be able to bring these into classrooms.
Please share a story about your service-learning course?
One of the most negative was in 2006, when one community member became increasingly hostile towards our work in Pilsen and GEO 133. He threatened me, left abusive messages on my phone, confronted me aggressively at a presentation I was making at the local public library about our service learning project, and even called a conference where I was presenting a paper about service learning, stating he would be coming to disrupt the session and that I was a liar. In the end, he decided to turn his attentions elsewhere. I fondly remember speaking with community members protesting on a cold November evening, and being given cups of hot, sweet, cinnamon atole de avena. Most of all, however, what stands out is the number of students who have declared my GEO 133 course (which despite the number, mostly enrolls seniors) the most important that they have taken at DePaul.
Have you derived any scholarly publications, etc. from your service-learning/community engagement work?
- Curran, Winifred; Hague, Euan and Jersha, Mike (2013) The Pilsen Building Inventory: The Changing State of Gentrification, Department of Geography, DePaul University.
- Hague, Euan and Curran, Winifred (2013) “Housing Development and Community Destabilization in Pilsen” AREA-Chicago, no.13, p.54.
- Curran, Winifred and Hague, Euan (2013) “Students and Sit-ins at Whittier Elementary School,” AREA-Chicago, no.13, p.55.
- Hague, Euan (2012) “18th and Peoria,” AREA-Chicago, no.12, p.22-23.
- Hague, Cliff; Hague, Euan and Breitbach, Carrie (2011) Regional and Local Economic Development, Palgrave Macmillan, chp. 13 “Skills for regional and local economic development”.
- Hague, Euan; Curran, Winifred and Pilsen Alliance (2008) Contested Chicago – Pilsen and Gentrification / Pilsen y el aburguesamiento: Una lucha para conservar nuestra comunidad, www.lulu.com.
- Curran, Winifred; Hague, Euan and Gill, Harpreet (2007) “Practicing Active Learning: Introducing Urban Geography and Engaging Community in Pilsen, Chicago,” in Nila Ginger Hofman and Howard Rosing (ed.) Pedagogies of Praxis: Course-Based Action Research in the Social Sciences, Anker Publishing, Bolton, MA, 79-94.
- Hague, Euan (2006) “Service Learning in Pilsen, Chicago,” in Richard P. Greene, Mark J. Bouman and Dennis Grammenos (ed.) Chicago’s Geographies – Metropolis for the 21st Century, Association of American Geographers, Washington D.C., 264-267.
- Curran, Winifred and Hague, Euan (2006) The Pilsen Building Inventory Project, Department of Geography, DePaul University.
- Hague, Euan (2005) “Tax Increment Financing – an ongoing contest over urban land use in Pilsen, Chicago,” Urban Geography Specialty Group Newsletter, vol. 26 (3) 7-9.
What advice would you give to faculty considering using service-learning in their course(s)?
Be prepared to change your curriculum. What you expect to happen often never does! Be able to adapt, work with the community and students in different ways.