Why Cities?

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cities_asiaGiven the historical, political, philosophical, sociological and scientific significance of the city, and its deep ties to citizenship both as an idea and as a lived experience, this theme offers many opportunities to foster and highlight interdisciplinary learning at Fairfield. Events will foster discussion of cities ancient and modern, near and far, real and imagined.

Over half of the world's population now lives in cities, and trends suggest that close to 75 per cent of the global population will live in urban and metropolitan areas by the middle of the 21st century. Most Fairfield graduates will earn their first job in a city. The topic of cities is thus connected to our previous events focus, Global Citizenship, in that today's cities are the specific locations or "theaters" of the broader phenomenon we call globalization: sites in which transnational flows of capital, ideas, and cultures are taking place; locations in which global processes–both those which encourage and those which limit human freedom–are happening on a daily basis. Moreover, many of the largest and fastest growing metropolitan regions are no longer in Europe and North America, but in Asia, Latin America, and outer Africa: cities such as Shanghai and Beijing (in China), Sao Paulo (in Brazil), Mumbai and Karachi (in India and Pakistan), Jakarta (in Indonesia), Istanbul (in Turkey), and Cairo and Lagos (in Egypt and Nigeria). To understand the promises and problems of urban life globally, and to comprehend the consequences of international flows of modernity and capital, we must look to these cities as well as those closer to home.

cities_marketplaceAll academic disciplines are important to this investigation. Students of the humanities and social sciences have traditionally looked to the city as a microcosm of civilization itself, as well as of its "discontents," to use Sigmund Freud's phrase. From the ancient city of Ur, in Mesopotamia, to the Greek City-States, imperial Rome, the walled Medieval city, and the rise of the modern industrial metropolis in the 19th century, the city has served as a way to understand fundamental changes in our lives, institutions, and social contracts: both our capacity to engineer productive civil societies and socio-economic systems and our capacity to exclude, exploit, and isolate. The irony that urban locations, while bringing large numbers of people in close contact, can also alienate the individual from society and expose the massive economic imbalances between classes has long been one of the central concerns in studies of the city. Therefore, there has also always been the question of how to engineer a better city - how to design productive, sustainable, equitable urban environments. From utopian political theories and computerized virtual cities to the ongoing challenges of architecture, public health, finance, management, infrastructure, and public administration, this question is as pressing as ever, and its answers lie in collective knowledge, cross-disciplinary conversations, and diverse learning communities.

Sincerely,

Nels Pearson,
Associate Professor of English & Faculty Facilitator for "Cities" Events