The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative

FUNDED BY THE ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION

With the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the Center for the Humanities, in partnership with the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, leads an Urban Humanities Initiative on “The Divided City.” Our goal is to bring humanities scholars into productive interdisciplinary dialogue with architects, urban designers, landscape architects, legal scholars, sociologists, geographers, GIS cartographers, and others around one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation.

We recognize that the term “segregation” has particular historical meaning in U.S. contexts, but following the frameworks suggested by Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities and Seth Low’s collection, Theorizing the City, we contend that the “divided city” and “segregation” are concepts that can be theorized globally. By “segregation” we mean not only once-legal racial separation in the United States or South Africa, but also persistent and widespread issues related to cities divided along racial, cultural, and economic lines through the spatial divisions found in so many parts of the world. These issues include social isolation and fragmentation, loneliness, environmental risks, and lack of access to basic services such as food, transit, health care, and public education. In short, our aim is to employ “segregation” as a theoretical framework, as we explore the reciprocal relationship between urban forms and social change.

The Divided City Initiative focuses on how segregation in this broad sense has and often continues to play out as a set of spatial practices in cities, neighborhoods, and public spaces, including schools, health facilities, and entertainment venues. Using the St. Louis metropolitan area as one of our research sites, we intend to explore the intersecting social and spatial practices of urban separation locally and globally. 

About the Divided City Initiative

In 2014, faculty in the humanities and in architecture and urban design at Washington University began their initial drafting of what would become “The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative.” Our intent was to develop a four-year project that would focus on the ways in which segregation in its broadest sense has and continues to play out as a set of spatial practices in cities, neighborhoods, public spaces, landscapes, and buildings. Using the St. Louis metropolitan area as a base, we wanted to deploy a variety of research methods and engage a range of community partners in order to explore the often hidden intersecting social and spatial practices of separation in North American and other global urban environments. Our primary goal was to bring humanities scholars into productive interdisciplinary dialogue with architects, urban designers, landscape architects, legal scholars, sociologists, and others around one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies – segregation.

We received word in June 2014 that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation had funded our Divided City project. Barely two months later, an unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb just a few miles north of our campus. Brown’s body was left in the street, on Canfield Drive, for over four hours. The protests and the militarized police response over the next year catapulted our city to the forefront of national and international news and brought an urgency to our initiative and a razor-sharp focus to our city that none of us could have predicted in the preceding months.

Over the past four years, “Ferguson” (and all it has come to symbolize) has profoundly shaped the work, the goals, the priorities, and the collaborative energy of “The Divided City” and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While there have been some structural changes, particularly in municipal policing and court systems, since the Ferguson Commission released its report in October 2015, Forward through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, regrettably far too much is as it was and has for so long been. Thus, as we reflect on the past four years and as we look to the future, we believe that the central theme, which both anchored and animated our original proposal – segregation – is no less pertinent than it was in 2014. Indeed, in a time when the world’s richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined, where religious fundamentalism, national protectionism, populism, white supremacy, and fascism are on the rise, and where humaneness and humanistic inquiry are increasingly devalued, a focus on segregation locally and globally is more pressing now than ever.

The Divided City 2022

Galvanized by the institutional partnerships, faculty collaboration, and graduate student cohorts developed over the past four years, and with a shared conviction that we have much yet to do, we recently requested and were granted four more years of support from the Mellon Foundation. In Fall 2018, we launched the Divided City 2022.

Our goal during these next four years is long-term institutional sustainability through:

  1. The provision of new opportunities in design pedagogy for humanities students, simultaneously aimed at enhancing a more diverse humanities-enriched pipeline into architecture and urban design
  2. The construction of strong, sustainable curricular bridges connecting the humanities, architecture, and urban design at the undergraduate and graduate levels
  3. Support for humanistic research on the built environment that prioritizes new collaborations around innovative knowledge production, community engagement, and new training sites (local and global) for faculty and graduate students working on the Divided City.

To learn more about the Divided City initiative, please visit the website, here.

Project Administration

The Divided City Initiative constitutes a unique collaboration between the Center for the Humanities, which is housed in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design, which is located in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts. Because we are crossing disciplines, departments, schools, and faculties with this initiative, we have developed a special structure for administrating the collaboration. The project itself is housed in and administratively supported by the Center for the Humanities and is co-directed by Center for the Humanities Director Jean Allman and former Dean of the School of Architecture Bruce Lindsey. The Project Coordinator is Tila Neguse. An advisory committee, who represent, institutionally, the main stakeholders in the project, advise them.

Contact

Please contact Tila Neguse, program coordinator of the Divided City Initiative, with any questions on the project, its events and its funding opportunities.

For more details about the Divided City, please visit us on the web at thedividedcity.com.

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