Historical Witness, Social Messaging Curriculum Lesson Plan Land Use and Lawmaking in California

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J. Paul Getty Museum
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Historical Witness, Social Messaging Curriculum Lesson Plan
Land Use and Lawmaking in California (Advanced Level)

Grades: High School (9–12)

Subjects: Visual Arts, English-Language Arts, History-Social Science

Time Required: 4–5 class periods, plus independent research

Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

Lesson Overview

Advanced-level students will examine photographs depicting suburban development; conduct independent research on land use; and design a plan for a utopian, environmentally-friendly housing development in their city.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • discuss the growth of suburban development in the United States after World War II.

  • write a persuasive essay about suburban development in California.

  • design a plan for a utopian and environmentally-friendly housing development.

Featured Works of Art
Tutucanula - El Capitan 3600 ft. Yo Semite, Carleton E. Watkins

Trenching Lakewood, California, William A. Garnett


  • Reproduction of Trenching Lakewood, California by William Garnett

  • Assignment Sheet: A Utopian Housing Development

  • Reproduction of Tutucanula - El Capitan 3600 ft. Yo Semite by Carleton E. Watkins

Lesson Steps

  1. Review the economic and societal changes in the United States in the years following World War II, such as:

  • the baby boom

  • revived consumer culture

  • growth of service-based economy

  • economic boom leading to increased jobs

  • growth of the suburbs and increase of car usage

  • demographic shifts (i.e., more African Americans moving to urban areas; “white flight” to the suburbs, partly in response to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling)

  • passage of the G.I. Bill (the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944), which provided low-interest, zero-down-payment home loans for servicemen, among other provisions

  1. Display a reproduction of Trenching Lakewood, California and explain that the photograph depicts one of the first large-scale post-WWII housing developments. Refer to discussion questions about this photograph provided in step 1 of the Beginning-Level Lesson on this theme (www.getty.edu/education/teachers/classroom_resources/curricula/lesson14.html). You may wish to have students listen to a discussion about William Garnett’s entire Lakewood series on the Getty Web site (www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/recent_acquisitions/lakewood_series.html). Explain to students that the growth of the suburbs after WWII was due, in part, to a need for housing, which resulted from the population boom. Another factor was the new use of mass-production methods in housing construction. Instruct students to look closely at the photograph and imagine they are walking along the roads of the construction site. What do they notice? How do they imagine the neighborhood will eventually look? What do they see that makes them think so? For example, what do they notice about the plots of land designated for individual homes (i.e., in terms of space, homogeneity, and convenience)?

  1. Tell students to speculate about the advantages and disadvantages of such a large-scale suburban development. Discuss the term suburban sprawl and how it relates to the Lakewood development. What are the reasons for suburban sprawl (i.e., cheaper to build new and larger developments outside of cities rather than renovate within cities). You may wish to prompt students by asking them how suburban sprawl might affect quality of life, the economy, and the environment. Invite students to share the qualities of a neighborhood that they like. Ask them whether they believe the qualities they like in a neighborhood could exist in Lakewood? Why or why not?

  1. Instruct students to conduct independent research online or in the library about suburban development in the United States after WWII. Have them write a persuasive essay that is either for or against the development of Lakewood. Students should imagine that they are living in the 1940s, when the area still consisted of beet fields. You may wish to have students write from the perspective of a person who could be affected by the development, such as a beet farmer, an environmentalist, a developer, a parent looking to buy a home, or a construction worker.

  1. After the essays are completed, have students exchange them with classmates. Instruct students to write one-paragraph responses that list a counterargument to each of the points made in the original essays. When finished writing their paragraphs, students should pass the responses and the essays back to the essay authors. Give students time to read the responses, then discuss students’ findings and reactions as a class. What did they learn from writing and reading the counterarguments? Did the counterarguments change their initial opinions?

  1. Now that students are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of developing Lakewood, they will design a plan for a utopian housing development in their own city that takes into consideration the advantages of suburban development while avoiding its pitfalls. You may wish to have students choose a city with a population that has increased greatly in recent years (i.e., Elk Grove or Irvine in California). Pass out the assignment sheet A Utopian Housing Development. Students will work in teams of four to design a utopian housing development for their city. To give students some parameters within which they can construct their plan, have them locate the Fact Sheet for their city on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Web site (www.factfinder.census.gov). You also may wish to give students a limit on how many people could live in their community and a budget with which they can weigh the pros and cons of their decisions.

  1. To assist students in designing a drawing from the perspective of a person on the ground, display the reproduction of Watkins’s Tutucanula - El Capitan 3600 ft. Yo Semite. Point out how this image has a distinct foreground, middle ground, and background. Students will already be familiar with an aerial perspective after examining Garnett’s photograph.

  1. When students complete their projects, have them promote their plan to the rest of the class.


Assess students’ ability to provide convincing arguments in their persuasive essays. Their utopian plans should include all required components outlined in the assignment.


  1. Students could create a third drawing of their utopian development using two-point perspective or build a three-dimensional architectural model out of cardboard.

  1. Connect to urbanization on a global level by examining the growth of cities in other countries. How does development in the United States compare to that of China, for example?

  1. Discuss how Lakewood changed over time by viewing additional photographs from William A. Garnett's Lakewood series (www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=256209).

Standards Addressed
Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 9–12

Key Ideas and Details

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Production and Distribution of Writing

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Visual Arts and Performing Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grades 9–12

1.0 Artistic Perception

1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
2.0 Creative Expression

2.6 Create a two or three-dimensional work of art that addresses a social issue.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context

3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.

History—Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 11

11.5 Students analyze the major political, social, economic, technological, and cultural developments of the 1920s.

7. Discuss the rise of mass production techniques, the growth of cities, the impact of new technologies (e.g., the automobile, electricity), and the resulting prosperity and effect on the American landscape.
11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America.

7. Describe the effects on society and the economy of technological developments since 1945, including the computer revolution, changes in communication, advances in medicine, and improvements in agricultural technology.

11.11 Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society.

5. Trace the impact of, need for, and controversies associated with environmental conservation, expansion of the national park system, and the development of environmental protection laws, with particular attention to the interaction between environmental protection advocates and property rights advocates.

7. Explain how the federal, state, and local governments have responded to demographic and social changes such as population shifts to the suburbs, racial concentrations in the cities, Frostbelt-to-Sunbelt migration, international migration, decline of family farms, increases in out-of-wedlock births, and drug abuse.
English—Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grades 9–10


1.0 Writing Strategies

1.1 Establish a controlling impression or coherent thesis that conveys a clear and distinctive perspective on the subject and maintain a consistent tone and focus throughout the piece of writing.

1.3 Use clear research questions and suitable research methods (e.g., library, electronic media, personal interview) to elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources.
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.3 Write expository compositions, including analytical essays and research reports.

2.4 Write persuasive compositions.
Listening and Speaking Strategies

2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.5 Deliver persuasive arguments (including evaluation and analysis of problems and solutions and causes and effects).
Grades 11–12


1.0 Writing Strategies

1.3 Structure ideas and arguments in a sustained, persuasive, and sophisticated way and support them with precise and relevant examples.

1.6 Develop presentations by using clear research questions and creative and critical research strategies (e.g., field studies, oral histories, interviews, experiments, electronic sources).
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.3 Write reflective compositions.

2.4 Write historical investigation reports.
Listening and Speaking Strategies

2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.

© 2008 J. Paul Getty Trust

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