Main content start
Center News
Topics of the West

Spring quarter courses on the West introduce students to land use, urban California and more

Land Use: Planning for Equitable and Sustainable Cities

Dan Rich

Past courses offered at the Bill Lane Center have introduced students to the complexities of environmental governance in the West, including classes co-taught by Len Ortolano on both sea level rise and wildfire. Land use is yet another issue central to Western governance and policy, and in the spring, a stellar team of practitioners, Stanford's land use director, and the Lane Center's Bruce Cain, Preeti Hehmeyer and Dan Rich will teach a course on the subject, exploring the relationship between humans and the built environment.

"Land Use is the 'bread and butter' of local government; it is really at the heart of democratic governance and why cities exist - so the residents can determine for themselves the future of their community," said Dan Rich, an instructor of the course and the Center's advisor on local government matters. As a former city manager of Mountain View, Rich has extensive experience developing long range land use plans, negotiating complex development agreements, enhancing sustainability programs and implementing strategy to address homelessness and the unstably housed.

Bruce Cain

While land use is not a term that makes it into most people's daily vernacular, it actually figures into many aspects of our lived experience, particularly in the West, driving decisions about where homes and businesses should be built, the amount of open space in a neighborhood, and the accessibility of public transportation. "What we've learned is that land use is really central to the West, and this class allows students to explore that with practitioners," said Bruce Cain, the Lane Center's Eccles Family Director.

Preeti Hehmeyer

Any serious current exploration of land use should also include questions about equity and sustainability.  After all, land use policies have been used in the past to perpetuate racism through practices such as redlining.  Likewise, proposals for affordable housing are frequently met with NIMBYism, illuminating ways in which economic inequality is exacerbated by not allowing lower income residents to enjoy the same benefits of a community as wealthier ones.  As Dan Rich notes, "Land use has been used for good and bad throughout history, and this class will explore both sides of that history -- along with the core concepts of planning and how it impacts current issues such as equity and sustainability."

With Rich's expertise, as well as that of Preeti Hehmeyer, a Mountain View planning commissioner, and Jessica von Borck, a former assistant city manager and Stanford's director of land use, students will learn how fair land use practices can chip away at social injustices and maximize the health and safety of residents. They'll also examine how sound land use policy offers significant protections to the natural environment, helping to conserve the resources that sustain a city's population. 

Jessica von Borck

"In my role as director of land use, I'm tasked with advising how Stanford's land could serve to support the university’s mission in both the short and long term, with a focus on how the university can protect its land-based resources," commented von Borck (left). "Balancing the stewardship of our lands with allowing for future growth, along with investigating and understanding the various competing components which go into making land use decisions, is something I'm excited to explore with students."

The class is open to both undergraduates and masters students from all disciplines. As a broad, introductory course on land use and the growth and development of cities, it may be especiallly enjoyable to students interested in  public policy, urban studies, history, politics, sociology, law, civic engagement or non-profit activism. "Or for those who simply want to better understand how and why their community is the way it is, and what they can do to change it," said Rich. He added, "As a long time local government manager, I have always been passionate about opening students' eyes to public service and the ability to make a meaningful difference in their community.  This class is the perfect opportunity to use my experience to do just that in a substantive way."

We hope current Bill Lane Center students and newcomers alike will take advantage of the exposure to real-world policy, planning and governance issues this course, and this team of instructors, will provide.

Race and Ethnicity in Urban California

Carol McKibben
A second spring quarter course, Race and Ethnicity in Urban California, will be taught by Carol McKibben, a Lane Center affiliated scholar who has been instructing on California history, urban history, race and ethnicity and immigration history at Stanford for fifteen years. Focused on the roots of inequality in urban and suburban California, the course is part of an ongoing research project that examines the consequences of longterm social, economic, and political changes in ethnic and race relations in California municipalities. In the past, McKibben has offered a similar course called California's Minority-Majority Cities.
According to McKibben, "We will examine both historic and current demographic shifts and complex migration patterns that help us understand the transformations of a variety of urban spaces over time. Our aim is to address the problem of persistent inequality that has been a hallmark of life in California, but that new scholarship challenges us to rectify holistically and 'in common purpose.'"
Recently, McKibben gave a virtual talk at the Lane Center on the historical development of Salinas, California, an urban center defined by its rural, agricultural economy. Moderated by Prof. Michelle Anderson, the event covered similar themes to the upcoming course, and was inspired by Dr. McKibben's forthcoming book, "SALINAS: The History of Race and Resilience in an Agricultural City" (Stanford University Press, 2021). 

The American West

What exactly is the American West? Students who are curious to understand more about what makes this region unique are encouraged to check out our flagship course on the American West, taught each spring by senior faculty from a wide range of departments, making it one of Stanford's most interdisciplinary offerings. The class integrates multiple perspectives into a comprehensive examination of Western North America: its history, physical geography, climate, literature, art, film, institutions, politics, demography, economy and continuing policy challenges. Core to the curriculum is the belief that the West is characterized by frontier mythology, vast distances, marked aridity, and unique political and economic characteristics. Students will explore these themes, and others fundamental to understanding the region, such as: time and space, water, fire, and energy, peoples, borders, boom and bust cycles, and more.

This year, we are excited to announce some changes to the curriculum that will integrate more diverse perspectives on the past, present and future of the West. Along with the standard lectures exploring the many people that make up the region, we are including outside speakers to share more stories from those who have historically been marginalized or left out of traditional American Western narratives. 

We look forward to offering these three excellent courses and welcoming current and new Bill Lane Center students to the classroom in the spring.

Recent Center News

California’s new water conservation plan; the effort by the Nez Perce to replace the Snake River dams’ hydroelectricity with solar power; Albuquerque’s out-of-commission dam is torquing regional water supplies; the Lakota herald the historic birth of a white buffalo; and more recent environmental stories from the American West.
New technologies and spiking power demand are directing western states’ attention to the hot rocks and hot groundwater beneath the earth's surface, which can be exploited for the energy they provide.
Bruce Cain argues that the federalist nature of the U.S., along with regional history and idiosyncratic human behavior, have made resolving collective action problems uniquely difficult.