An Urban Humanities Initiative



The Divided City is an urban humanities initiative in partnership with the Mellon Foundation, the Center for the Humanities, and the Sam Fox School at Washington University in St. Louis.

While a case can be made that segregation has been a feature of urban life since ancient times, with the expansion of European empires and the consolidation of colonial urban spaces in the modern world, segregation increasingly became a mechanism for dividing and managing urban space along lines of color and economic privilege or, better, through the mutually constitutive forces of race and class. As humanities scholars, our core concern is with the ways people experience the boundaries of urban segregation: how they move within, beyond, and across what appear to be hard and fast “color lines” in housing, education, sports, public services, entertainment, and transportation. On a GIS map or in an urban census, the Divided City — be it Johannesburg, St. Louis, Rio de Janeiro, or elsewhere — is stark and unyielding in its contrasts. But how do people experience urban space and urban life in the Divided City? How do they make meaning, form communities, do their daily shopping, socialize, build political organizations? What kinds of stories do they tell about living separate lives? When do they adhere to the lines? When, where, and how do they cross them? If segregation creates very real lines of difference — of brutal and dehumanizing inequality — then it also obscures a whole range of social relations that transgress, sometimes in very subtle ways, the stark lines of the Divided City. It is those stories — not only of transgression, but of meaning, of community, of art, of sport, and of struggle — that the Humanities uncover.

For educators in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design, history reveals the formal design strategies that have facilitated, supported, challenged, or problematized the Divided City. These range from monumental structures that have embodied the values of cities and states through practices of legal and covert spatial segregation to a variety of reform efforts that have attempted to ameliorate or replace patterns of separation with new urban and metropolitan patterns. These range from tenement reform and the Garden City movement to the professionalization of urban planning and various twentieth-century forms of radical urbanism, which were intended, often unsuccessfully, to produce new and more just societies but in the end sparked postmodernist reactions against them. When we add global urbanization at an unprecedented speed and scale to this history, we see the need for new practices and new ways of thinking and of teaching, in order to transform the futures of the world’s divided cities.

By forging scholarly connections between the Humanities and Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University, we seek to build the Urban Humanities as an interdisciplinary curricular and research strength. Through our combined, collaborative efforts, we are prioritizing 1) the development and expansion of accessible sources for scholarly research on segregation in the St. Louis metropolitan area (through the development of special collections, archival preservation, and digital humanities projects); and 2) the study of recent and contemporary interventions aimed at increasing urban public space and public infrastructure, which are often an essential mechanism for the dissolution of the Divided City. We consider it absolutely critical that our local efforts unfold in dialogue with national and global scholarship on segregation, separation, inequality, and the urban divide. Our efforts are thus necessarily both local and global.

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