In 2010-11, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities launched a new program focused on cities. The idea was to offer programming that appeals to audiences on campus and off, that allows for collaborative interdisciplinary exchange across the arts and humanities, and that highlights and publicizes the work of Penn State faculty and graduate students.
Our first year was devoted to New Orleans; our second year concentrated on Rome. In 2012-13, our examination of cities branched out beyond individual cites. In the fall we explored the cities of South Africa, from pre-history through their modern identity. Events included lectures by Imraan Coovadia, author and professor at the University of Cape Town; Kristin Barry, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at Penn State and archaeological architect; and Raymond Gastil, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Penn State.
In Spring 2013 we developed “City Life/ Living Cities.” We realized that between the literary and artistic fantasies of utopian cities and the technocratic professional discourse that dominates urban planning, there is a wide swath of under-explored urban territory. We were especially drawn to New Yorker writer David Owen’s Green Metropolis (2009), which argues that the traditional densely populated city is the most sustainable form of human habitat. When Owen first proposed Manhattan and Hong Kong as exemplary “green” environments in the pages of the New Yorker, his argument was novel and provocatively counterintuitive. Now, in conjunction with the work of other urban theorists and environmentalists, it is beginning to influence not only planning professionals, but even real estate developers.
David Owen headlined our Spring 2013 Cities presentations with an appearance at the HUB Auditorium on Tuesday, March 26. He was preceded in the series by Dan Willis of the Department of Architecture, who on February 26 offered another counterintuitive look at cities and sustainability in a lecture titled “Less is Less: The Environmental Perils of Thinking Small.” Finally, on April 9, Daniel Purdy of the German Department gave us a look at Berlin architecture and public space in the shadow of modernism, in a lecture titled “Globalization and the European City.”
For 2013-2014 we resumed the single-city focus, but moved the locale to Tehran. With the help of IAH Postdoctoral Scholar Ida Meftahi, we planned a series of lectures, films, and performances based on the culture and history of this fascinating city, beginning with Meftahi herself, who presented a lecture on October 2, “From ‘golden age’ to ‘decadence’: Women on Lalehzar stage of pre-revolutionary Iran,” at 7 pm in the Alumni Lounge of the Nittany Lion Inn.
Our “Cities” series for 2014-2015 focused on the Pacific Rim– especially the west side of the rim. As usual, we hosted speakers from a wide variety of disciplines, exploring cities from Tokyo to Hong Kong, via topics ranging from water to bullet trains. Pacific Rim presentations were held in the Palmer Lipcon Auditorium on selected Thursday evenings.
In 2015-16, instead of focusing on individual cities or regions, the IAH examined theories and practices of city space. From Jane Jacobs’ groundbreaking The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), and its searing critique of postwar urban planning, to the success of New York’s High Line reclamation project, the question of how cities use, misuse, and depend on public space has been of paramount concern– to planners, architects, residents, tourists, and everyone who cares about the quality of urban life around the globe.
2016-17: “City, Energy, Information” symposium
Cities of the 21st century are facing radical changes and dynamic challenges. On the one hand, our current ways of extracting, producing, and consuming energy have resulted in emitting greenhouse gases and causing significant transformations in the climate. On the other, the digital revolution has introduced ubiquitous connectivity and new technologies that are drastically transforming our cities and how we interact with them. The Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC), the Department of Architecture, and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) will coordinate a multidisciplinary symposium as a potential venue to go beyond the unfavorable effects of these challenges, reimagining them as potential solutions to our current urban energy problems.
The “City, Energy, Information” symposium will provide new insights on how the proliferation of data and novel urban experiments enable innovative technology-driven responses in governance, policy, economics, and even daily life interactions of citizens as an intellectual means to overcome wider energy issues in cities. Invited scholars and practitioners will propose new strategies for cities to empower and engage experts and the general public, rethink economic solutions and governance models, and to develop a new manifesto for adopting technology and information as a tool towards an energy efficient future.