Vanderbilt to host Symposium on Universities, Cities and Communities Sept. 21–22

More than half of the world’s population lives in dense urban areas. Cities have grown at unprecedented rates, which has introduced a host of significant challenges related to transportation, housing, climate, economic inequalities and cultural preservation. Many urban areas face great uncertainty as they grow beyond their ability to adapt and adequately provide for their inhabitants. 

The College of Arts and Science’s Grand Challenge Initiative on Cities is hosting a two-day symposium to address critical questions, such as: What makes a successful city? How might universities and scholars introduce innovative ways of understanding cities, their problems and their solutions?

Attendees will hear from, and engage with, leading experts in urban planning, history, gentrification, cultural preservation and other areas related to urban studies. Speakers and scholars from Vanderbilt and other universities will host panels, plenary sessions and case studies that illuminate the obstacles cities face and the role that higher education institutions might play in understanding and addressing them. Featured speakers include leaders in the field who oversee urban studies institutes in key urban areas: 

  • Dana Cuff, professor, founding director of cityLAB (University of California–Los Angeles) 
  • Henry Louis Taylor Jr., professor of urban and regional planning, director of the Center for Urban Studies (State University of New York at Buffalo) 
  • Joe Trotter Jr., Giant Eagle University Professor of History and Social Justice, director of the Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy (Carnegie Mellon University) 

The event also includes a unique “transportainment” trolley tour of Nashville guided by two Vanderbilt faculty members. Participants will explore Nashville’s neighborhoods and history, visit the city’s diverse murals and tour Fort Negley, a UNESCO site of memory, with descendant Jeneene Blackman, executive director of Nashville’s African American Cultural Alliance. 

“Vanderbilt is uniquely positioned to host this exciting event,” said Angela Sutton, research assistant professor of communication of science and technology and member of the Grand Challenge Initiative on Cities Steering Committee. “Our university sits in a rapidly growing urban area that has faced many of these very challenges. Nashville is the perfect backdrop in which to discuss these issues and see first-hand the impacts they have on communities and people.”  

In the past decade, the tension between competing ideas of “old Nashville” and “new Nashville” have been at the heart of many of the city’s growing pains—a phenomenon echoed in cities throughout the world. The Grand Challenge Initiative on Cities leverages Vanderbilt’s institutional strengths to investigate ways that faculty and students can mobilize to critically engage with the changing environs of the world’s cities, including Nashville, and identify additional ways to address the needs of their diverse populations. 

“The College of Arts and Science’s Grand Challenge Initiative was developed for this exact purpose: to tackle the complex, pressing challenges of our time through cutting-edge and collaborative scholarship,” said Timothy P. McNamara, interim dean of the College of Arts and Science. “The impact of urbanization is a significant concern here in Nashville and in cities around the world. This symposium will reach across disciplines to shed light on the challenges, and potential solutions, to this global issue.” 

The symposium will be Thursday, Sept. 21, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday, Sept. 22, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All in the Vanderbilt community are welcome to attend. Registration for the event is not required; however, it is required for the “transportainment” trolley tour, which has limited seats (RSVP to Read more details about the symposium.