We have arrived at the point of Spring 2021 when those classes that are “in-person” have started. For the first time in 4 months, we have students on campus. A few faculty and staff are here too. On my twice-weekly visits to campus, which I have been doing since November, it is now finally the case that I see other human beings, but it is still a strange thing to see many nearly empty spaces. Extrapolating outward from Vernon Street, as we frequently do here at CUGS, it is hard not to miss what a year of pandemic closures and restrictions have done and are continuing to do to Hartford, and to cities around the world. Agglomeration, that big hundred-dollar word at the heart of the economic geography of urbanism, has become a danger, or a curse. All the buzz about how important the face-to-face interchange of ideas in cities or alternative public transportation were to globalization, innovation, entrepreneurship, social movements, urban community-building, and on and on… well, they are either not buzzing, or the buzzing has a different, jarring ring to it. Ernest Burgess, nearly 100 years ago, wrote that “the mobility of city life… tends inevitably to confuse and demoralize the person.” What would Burgess make of this age of immobility, when urbanites other than Door-Dashers and Amazon delivery-drivers go nowhere, when commuting and jet-setting are life-threatening? It certainly has brought new forms of confusion and demoralization to city life! Yet this is not entirely an age of despair and reversal for cities, or for urban and global studies – at Trinity, or around the world. Real estate markets are churning in new and unusual directions, rents as well. The “four contradictions” that Bob Beauregard saw in his 2018 book as lying at the heart of urbanism (cities are central to processes leading toward wealth and poverty, environmental destruction and sustainability, democratization and oligarchy, and tolerance and exclusion) not only remain, but appear in new forms that give urban scholars, organizers, activists, planners and policy-makers an incredible amount of work to do (it was hard to miss that third contradiction spitting in our faces in this country on January 6 from Washington, DC).
Perhaps some of that work will have to wait for vaccine rollouts to be universal, or perhaps we will continue to find new ways to teach, learn, and research about them virtually. At any rate, CUGS is alive and well and growing. Spring is bringing new urban-and-global courses from both new and veteran faculty, including Amanda Guzman’s “Understandings of Puerto Rico,” Francisco Perez’s “African Economic History,” Kevin Funk’s “Brazilian Politics & Society,” Jonathan Cabral’s “State and Local Policy,” Julie Gamble’s “Learning from Hartford,” or Xiangming Chen’s “Reshaping Global Urbanization.” We are also sponsoring Piero Vereni’s “Urban and Global Rome” class in a virtual version of the Rome study-away program. The Urban Studies major and minor continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Programming that CUGS supports with the Connecticut World Affairs Council has been dynamic and incredibly topical. The Cities Gateway Program is attracting a great deal of interest already from early-admitted students for the class of 2025. The Global Vantage Point seminar series – with two great talks already in the books – has three exciting talks to go in March in April. And we are preparing to welcome two new colleagues in Summer 2021: Dr. Maria Auxiliadora Briceño Barrios, who will arrive in July as CUGS’s IIE-SRF visiting fellow, and Leniqueca Welcome, who will be a new tenure-track faculty member in urban studies and international studies beginning in Fall 2021. I encourage students to submit their proposals for summer research with the Kelter, Thomas, Tanaka or Grossman grants, and I encourage everyone to attend the GVP talks coming up from Shunyuan Zhang, Caroline Melly, and David Lukens.