On May 12, 2014, the Roosevelt House welcomed a panel discussion exploring the city of the future, co-hosted by the World Policy Institute. The panelists included Jill S. Gross, Associate Professor in Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, Marc Norman, Director of UPSTATE: Center for Design, Research and Real Estate, and Emeka Okafor, Co-Founder and Curator at Maker Faire Africa. Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow and Director of the Emergent Cities Project at the WPI moderated the event. Jonathan provided introductory remarks, which are provided here. Video of the event may be viewed below.
Making the Emergent City: A Panel Discussion
May 12, 2014
Good evening, I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my pleasure to welcome you to a program we are doing in partnership with the World Policy Institute, a panel discussion on “Making the Emergent City.” As more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, a number expected to grow to 6.3 billion by 2050, the future of the cities is a topic to which Roosevelt House will devote considerable attention.
Earlier this academic year, Bruce Katz of Brookings came to discuss his new book, The Metropolitan Revolution, in which he argues for a New Hanseatic League of international cities which will learn from one another. Tonight’s program will deepen our exploration of the future of cities worldwide.
I am very glad Roosevelt House and the World Policy Institute are making common cause on this program. When I was President of the New School, then WPI Director Arch Gillies and I merged the WPI into the New School and we were proud to have it and The World Policy Journal as part of our University. Its longtime editors, James Chace and Karl Meyer, and WPI leaders like Sherle Schwenniger and Fellow Walter Russell Mead added to the University’s intellectual vitality.
When I was doing our due diligence before the merger, I talked with Les Gelb, then head of the Council on Foreign Relations. He praised the WPI for its fresh thinking, for getting ahead of the issues, for bringing a different perspective, for example, understanding the changes in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev and the shift in the balance between economic and military concerns.
After my time, the New School made the mistake of encouraging the WPI to become an independent institution again, but many New School trustees like Henry Arnhold and Michael Gellert remain vitally interested in it as do I.
Tonight’s program we think will stimulate complex and creative thinking around the contradictory fate of the 21st century city – the exploding megacities of the Global South and the shrinking Rust Belt cities of the Global North. Tonight’s conversation will help us understand the challenges facing cities and some of the lessons that New York and other US cities might learn from emerging mega-cities around the world.
We gather in the homes of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. I think FDR would be pleased with our topic tonight. “Making the Emergent City,” will look at what the informal sector, citizens themselves, can do to build cities that are decent places to live and work, resilient, and avenues of opportunity for people of all backgrounds to improve their lives.
FDR understood that government could not fix every problem, that local initiative was important. Hear his words speaking to his neighbors in Poughkeepsie in 1933,
“More men and more women are taking an individual, a personal, interest in all the problems – the social relations and economic and political problems – than ever before in the history of the Nation, and I hope that that interest will be extended to the problems of the local government as well.”
And he understood that business as usual would not do. Like the World Policy Institute, he challenged us to see our problems in all their complexity and be bold in thinking about future solutions. Giving a commencement address at Oglethorpe University in 1932, he said,
“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation… We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you.”
And that leads to our topic tonight. How citizens from Detroit to Lagos to Katmandu can remake their cities.
To introduce and moderate our panel tonight, I will now call on Kavitha Rajagopalan, Senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and co-leader of the Institute’s Emergent Cities Program. The program develops and pilots new ways to “activate” resilient urban spaces in the economically troubled and shrinking cities of the West, using lessons from cities in the developing world characterized by high rates of migration and informality, i.e. “emergent” cities. Kavitha is the author of Muslims of Metropolis: The Stories of Three Immigrant Families in the West, a narrative nonfiction examination of migration, integration and identity formation in three Muslin immigrant families – a Palestinian family from Jerusalem to London, a Kurdish family from Turkey to Berlin, a Bangladeshi family from Dhaka to New York City. Her projects include research and advocacy on the causes and consequences of undocumented migration, urban informality, and minority access to mainstream financial systems. She writes widely on global migration and diversity and has taught related courses at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs.
After the panel talks for about 40 minutes, we will open the conversation for your questions and conclude by 7:15 pm.