The Place to Be

Aseem Inam:  At this moment, as an urban scholar-practitioner-activist, New York City is definitely one of "the places to be."  I recently gave a talk in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States.  Los Angeles is moving forward in so many ways [e.g. see previous blog post]:  building new public transit, investing in parks and bike lanes, populating downtown with new residents, attracting bright young talent, and more .  Yet it is missing something:  a critical mass of ideas, people and movements that is so crucial to urban transformation.  Furthermore, the positive changes being proposed and carried out still feel timid and from within the system.

New York City is filled with amazing activist and advocacy organizations that have made remarkable strides in affordable housing, alternative modes of transportation, public spaces, and policy advocacy.  Occupy Wall Street is one of the best things to happen to American cities in a long time because of the way it mobilized people and brought much-needed attention to use of public space, income inequalities, and uneven power structures.  Organizations like Common Ground, Transportation Alternatives, Friends of the High Line, and Center for Urban Pedagogy have made significant impacts on the city and continue to do so.  What makes the critical mass of their impact possible is the density and connectivity of the city, which fosters increased contact, exchange of ideas, and effective collective action.

What makes New York City even more exciting is a remarkable group of scholar-practitioners -- my colleagues at Parsons The New School for Design -- who are reinventing urbanism through a series of extraordinary pedagogical initiatives.  While we have had our struggles in establishing new approaches and new programs in Urban Practice and Urban Ecologies, the truly unique quality of thinking that is prevalent here became crystal clear to me in a faculty meeting, of all places.  A discussion about methods for 21st century urbanism was exceptionally cogent and inventive in terms of the right mix of critical analysis, technological tools, engaged research, and meaningful experimentation that combine to unleash radical change.  I marveled at the depth and creativity of thinking of my colleagues, which challenges and furthers my own ideas.

And there is even more.  The same day as the faculty meeting, I was invited to a gathering at the Ford Foundation of activists, practitioners, policy makers, and scholars as a prelude to the World Urban Forum to take place in Medellin, Colombia in April 2014.  The two most impressive  aspects of the event were the quality of the people in terms of their experience and achievements, and the fact that the best speeches about the future of urbanism were by two politicians:  the former mayor of Barcelona and the former mayor of New York City.  Even if one disagrees with some of the policies of these former mayors, one had to admire how much each mayoral administration had accomplished while facing extremely challenging circumstances.  New York attracts many such stimulating gatherings of people from all over the world.

In short, I truly love being here at this moment, in the place to be.  AI

How does the Graduate Program in Urban Practice at Parsons engage with New York City?    Source:  Vimeo.