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:
- 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
- The construction of strong, sustainable curricular bridges connecting the humanities, architecture, and urban design at the undergraduate and graduate levels
- 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.