An Urban Humanities Initiative


12.16.16--Sam Fox School professor Catalina Freixas works with her students.

Over the past four years, The Divided City, an urban humanities initiative at Washington University in St. Louis, has supported dozens of classes, seminars and research projects investigating the history, mechanisms and contemporary effects of spatial segregation. This fall, the university will launch a second phase, The Divided City 2022, thanks to a $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Fair Housing Act turned 50 this month, and lots of local organizations are using that milestone as an opportunity to look back and take stock of how far we've actually progressed since 1968. On Friday and Saturday, Dwell in Other Futures, "a two-day festival of art and ideas that explores the collisions of race, urbanism and futurism" will grapple with many of the same topics, but in a more nonlinear, speculative way. Organized by Rebecca Wanzo, Tim Portlock, and Gavin Kroeber with support from Wash U's Divided City Initiative, it's been in planning for more than a year.

For multidisciplinary artist and curator Gavin Kroeber, scholar and Washington University in St. Louis faculty member Dr. Rebecca Wanzo, and artist and Washington University faculty member Tim Portlock, exploring St. Louis’ many possible futures also doubles as an opportunity to dig deeper into more complicated questions. Driven by a desire to facilitate a more imaginative and accessible dialogue open to the St. Louis public, the trio organized “Dwell in Other Futures: Art / Urbanism / Midwest.” The two-day festival, scheduled for the weekend of April 27-28, features panels, performances and art installations all meditating on the intersections of race, urbanism, and futurism through multiple artistic practices and interpretations.

The Dwell in Other Futures Art Fest will feature some major -isms: futurism, urbanism, activism and even, in the words of the organizers, "artivism." After its opening night at .ZACK (3224 Locust) on April 27, the festival will take place at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (3716 Washington Boulevard) throughout the afternoon and evening of April 28. Organized by Gavin Kroeber, Rebecca Wanzo and Tim Portlock, it will feature poetry, visual art, sound and other creative mixes, all with a particular focus on the Midwest.

An Article in Art in America magazine on the "Charting the American Bottom" digital humanities project. The American Bottom region is the focus of a multi-year initiative led by artist Jesse Vogler and artist and researcher Matthew Fluharty. The project's primary manifestation is "Charting the American Bottom," a website featuring an interactive map of the region, photographs, texts describing key geographical features, and essays examining the poetics of the landscape as well as the histories of conflict and growth that have left physical traces on the terrain.

On a map of the city, researchers at Washington University have placed 800 dots. They represent pieces of gay history, stitching together a story arc that has been told only in snippets. There on the interactive map are the nightclubs, the bookstores, the places of worship where those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer came together, safe harbors in a Midwest city resisting what was not considered normal. The project is a collaboration of Washington University, the Missouri History Museum, the State Historical Society of Missouri and the St. Louis LGBT History Project.

“Eminent Domain/Displaced,” a collaborative installation by Matt Rahner and Lois Conley, which opens October 6 at the Griot Museum, is a new exhibit that explores neighborhoods victimized by eminent domain. Visitors will view scenes from Kansas City’s Wendell Phillips neighborhood to Mill Creek Valley and St. Louis Place (home to the upcoming NGA West Campus), scenes of life before and after the headache ball.

Historian Margaret Garb, of Arts & Sciences, writes on the Center for the Humanities site about St. Louis’ use of eminent domain. An exhibit opening and panel discussion took place on October 6-7, 2017.

The St. Louis International Film Festival and the Divided City Initiative have collaborated to present “Mean Streets: Viewing the Divided City Through the Lens of Film and Television.” This six-day program shows how film and television reflect — both consciously and unconsciously — problems within U.S. society, including the overt and covert racism that has long segregated our cities.

On Monday July 18, 2016, as part of its annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, Cinema St. Louis presented a film created in a class funded by the Divided City. “Bob’s Tour – Understanding What We See” is a film by Jun Bae, a 2016 graduate of the Sam Fox School. “Bob’s Tour” began last fall as a class project in “Tale of Two Cities: Documenting Our Divides,” a seminar funded by The Divided City initiative and led by Professor Denise Ward-Brown. The film explores the community activism of associate professor Bob Hansman.

“Mapping LGBTQ St. Louis” is a Divided City Initiative project that focuses on the LGBTQ experience within the divided city of St. Louis. The final product will be an interactive map available to the public that showcases the way space was utilized by LGBTQ populations, while also bringing to life the experience of “living in a city divided by sexual identity and practice, gender, race, and socioeconomic status” .

“The American Bottom” project works to bring cohesion to the fragmented region known as the American Bottom. Jesse Vogler, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Washington University, and his research team recently launched an in-progress website,, that will allow visitors to explore the relationship between humans and the natural environment.

Eve Blau, adjunct professor of the history of urban form, has received a collaborative research grant with Heather Woofter, professor and chair of graduate architecture at Washington University, and Michael Allen, director of St. Louis’s Preservation Research Office, from Washington University’s The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative. Their research project, entitled Citizen Space in North St. Louis, will examine the role of government influence on the formation and division of public spaces in St. Louis.

In March of 2016, The Divided City sponsored several Washington University faculty to attend and present at the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s conference, “Voices & Visions of St. Louis: Past, Present, Future” The conference examined the urban planning and design decisions that have excluded and dispossessed St. Louis’s African-American community during the past two centuries, and what today’s planners and designers can do repair the damage.

Jeffrey McCune is an associate professor in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program and in the Performing Arts Department, both in Arts & Sciences. Professor McCune is one of the project leads on the Divided City’s faculty collaborative grant, “Oral Histories of Ferguson.” Professor McCune, in partnership with professor Clarissa Hayward, has been collecting narratives from activists involved with the Ferguson movement and speaks at length in this interview about the relationship between academia and activism.

Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, has embarked on a four-year study that will examine racial segregation from a variety of perspectives. The project, entitled “The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative,” is funded in part by a $650,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In 2014, Washington University in St. Louis launched “The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative.” The $1.6 million project — funded in part by a four-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — examines both the history and present-day reality of segregation from a variety of perspectives. Hear from principal investigators, Jean Allman, director of the Center for the Humanities and Bruce Lindsey, dean of Architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.