Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Case Study

Urban Altruism: Learning to Love Our Neighbor(hood)s

Pedagogical Components

The analysis and work of the course culminated in a concluding team assignment intended to bring together three things: (1) theoretical work in the humanities (philosophy, theology); (2) research in the social sciences (sociology, urban planning); and (3) on-the-ground interest in the specificity of the city of Grand Rapids.  In short, the goal was to “aim” our liberal arts learning and bring it to bear upon specific challenges and issues in the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids.  The project was communicated as follows to the students:

“The goal is to explore a particular aspect of “urban altruism” relative to Grand Rapids (e.g., urban planning policies, local economics initiatives, neighborhood association planning, community church programs, the creation of “urban sanctuaries,” or innovative “everyday” practices). Your research will identify and analyze any current practices, programs, or policies that foster urban altruism, but more importantly your task will be to identify gaps that present opportunities for new initiatives.  Each group’s research, based on sound social science, will recommend a new initiative in the relevant sector that will foster urban altruism.  Research will be presented in a poster format which will be displayed in a public space in Grand Rapids (hopefully City Hall), and then posted on the course website.”

Students met in teams to identify a problem/challenge, propose a project, consider its feasibility (assuming very limited budget resources), research the issues (including attention to issues of material conditions, built-environment, community-building, etc.), and then construct a poster that would clearly specify the problem, communicate and demonstrate the viability of the constructive proposal, and convince stakeholders to marshal the resources to implement the proposal.


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