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New Research Initiative Connects AU’s Urban Scholars

By Adrienne Frank

A shared curiosity around cities drew faculty and students from diverse disciplines — computer science, anthropology, government, Latin American studies, economics, and biology — together for the launch of the Comparative Urban Research Initiative (CURI), October 28.

The initiative is the brainchild of Professor Daniel Esser, who came to the School of International Service (SIS) a year ago eager to connect with other urban scholars.

“You really learn from people who work on similar issues from different directions,” said Esser, whose own research focuses on the politics of institution building in cities. “Cities are a research subject that excites many of us, and I hope this will be the beginning of a conversation across schools and across disciplines.”

Rosemary Wander, vice provost of graduate studies and research, applauded the initiative, which brings “new visibility” to the AU community’s scholarly efforts in cities near and far.

“This activity is driven by the energy and passion of faculty and unites people across the campus,” she said. “I hope CURI becomes a piece of the AU vocabulary that everyone recognizes.”

On October 28, CURI hosted a workshop during which 10 professors from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), School of Public Affairs (SPA), and SIS presented their current research and upcoming projects. Participants included:

  • William Leap, CAS: Visualizing a Neoliberal Urban Gay Geography
  • Brenda Werth, CAS: Imagining American Cities Through Twenty-First Century Performance
  • David Pike, CAS: The Afterlife of Urban Imagery, Spatial Practices, and Infrastructure
  • Eve Bratman, SIS: Washington, D.C., as a Third World City
  • Kim Blankenship, CAS: Coercive Mobility and HIV Risk in D.C.
  • Daniel Esser, SIS: Chinese Investments in African Cities
  • Carl LeVan, SIS: Urban Migration, Economic Uncertainty, and Ethnic Networks in Suburban Abuja
  • Dolores Koenig, CAS: Forced Displacement in Asian and African Cities—Infrastructure Construction, Slum Renovation, and Gentrification
  • Cathy Schneider, SIS: Racial Boundaries and Riots: Comparing Paris and Marseilles
  • Sonja Walti, SPA: Assessing the Success of Participatory Environmental Management

As professors only had 10 minutes to present their work, Esser jokingly likened the event to “speed dating.” It was an appropriate analogy. “We’ll talk later” was a refrain heard throughout the morning as faculty forged new connections around their overlapping interests.

Said SIS dean Louis Goodman: “We’re all about the business of tearing down the walls that separate us.”