The City Podcast “… if you see a mountain, be suspicious. Landfill!”

Chicago Skyline – Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

The quote above in the title is from Professor Robert Bullard, pioneer investigator of environmental discrimination and father of the concept of environmental justice. He is one of the many interviewees in The City, a podcast by USA Today. The full quote is this: “Chicago is completely flat, so if you see a mountain, be suspicious. Landfill!”

The City is a journalistic reconstruction of the start of the illegal dumpsters in the city of Chicago. In this podcast, creator, host, and executive producer Robin Amer, and her team of journalists tell the story of how one of Chicago’s most prolific criminals (John Cristopher) dumped piles of debris in several black neighborhoods. Robin Amer focuses her attention on the “six-story mountain of rubble in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood” and its ties to an FBI operation (operation “Silver Shovel”) aimed to uncover political corruption in the city.

“The FBI called this new undercover investigation Operation Silver Shovel. “Silver” like the 30 pieces of silver Judas got for betraying Jesus. And “Shovel” like the bulldozers at John Christopher’s dumps.” – Says Aimer on Episode 5 where she continues to disclose how this FBI operation worsens the problem of unwanted waste in minority neighborhoods by protecting John Christopher as an informer while he still kept dumping in other neighborhoods, presumably without the FBI’s knowledge.

The podcast is not only well documented, but it also offers its listeners a chance to look at some of the concrete evidence used in the investigation, including some transcriptions, pictures and files. It is all available directly in the website under a link that says “DIG DEEPER”.

The City also has a VR/3d model of the North Lawndale neighborhood as it was in 1992. The model is available though the web or contained in USA Today’s app where you can use a VR set to explore the neighborhood. Alternatively, you can check the 3D map directly below by clicking on the play button and moving your mouse around. Make sure to click on the annotations bar that pops up at the bottom so you can get more information about the effects of this massive dump in the middle of a once clean and healthy neighborhood.

As an avid podcast listener, I recommend The City to anyone interested in urban issues, real stories, journalism and high quality podcasts. If you want to give The City a try, here is a 28 second trailer from the first season. The second season was recently released and I will write about it when I’m done listening!

A 28 second trailer from the first season of The City

You can subscribe for free to The City Podcast on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.


  • If you would like to learn more about environmental discrimination, make sure to read this article and visit Dr. Bullard’s website here.
  • If you would like to learn more about The City, I recommend this article by Mauricio Peña from the non-profit news outlet Block Club Chicago.
  • If you would like to know more about Robin Amer, you can find her website here.
  • Transcripts from the city are also available at the podcast website here.

“Reimagining the City” – A talk by Dr. Jonathan Jae-an Crisman

Photo by Octavian Rosca on Unsplash

A night with good food, great weather, and some of the most important scholars in the humanities in the Southwest, this is how the “Next” Tucson Humanities Festival started this year. At an uncanny location too: the Playground, a downtown bar in Tucson usually full of music and young people dancing until late hours, transformed into a delightful, peaceful rooftop in the middle of Tucson with a cool breeze and great company.

The night started with the words of the Dean of the College of Humanities of the University of Arizona, Dr. Alain-Philippe Durand, who tackled the theme of this year’s festival: Next. This year, the Humanities Festival will be discussing the future of humanities and the direction that humanities scholarship will take in the following years to maximize its impact during the digital age. “We don’t want the machines in charge, we want humans to be in charge,” said Dr. Durand during his speech

This year’s festival was inaugurated by the talk of Dr. Jonathan Jae-an Crisman titled “Urban Humanities: New Practices for Reimagining the City”. In it, Dr, Crisman offered a refreshing point of view on several of the most critical urban challenges of our time.

“What will the city of the future look like? Many of the most innovative urban practices shaping our cities today, from modes of transportation to housing patterns, can be found in cities of the past. Consider cycling, co-housing, and night markets: urban technologies that have been with us from hundreds of years, yet are now seeing a renaissance in cities all around the world. But their past forms also inform us about important considerations for the environment, for equity, and urban vitality. If we want to imagine and make the next city, we can do so by exploring the past, by going back to the future.” –

The Humanities Festival is a yearly month-long event that started in 2009 through a series of outreach events. This year, the festival includes fourteen events with topics like “transforming lives”, “politics and poetry”, and “space and wondering”. The acclaimed author Sandra Cisneros will also be part of this years’ festival with a reading on October 24th.

The talk was introduced by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who enthusiastically talked about the many events that the city hosts, emphasized the importance of the festival: “events like this are why we live here… What a great city we have!”. And I agree with the Mayor. Tucson does have a rich cultural and intellectual life, and it is thanks to all the people who make this and other events happen. However, the city of Tucson just got better. Allow me to introduce to you the newly appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Public & Applied Humanities and the Institute for LGBT Studies, Dr. Jonathan Jae-an Crisman.

Dr. Crisman is an expert urbanist who focuses on the intersection of art and urban design. He is the proposer of the concept of imminent speculation, which is “the practicing of an inherently unknowable future in order to create the conditions for that future to unfold”(Crisman: Practicing the Future, 2016). A concrete example of this would be a project called “Peatoniños” ( I will tell you about this project in the near future) where Dr. Crisman worked as part of a research team from UCLA. “Peatoniños” is an answer to the high mortality rate of children in Mexico City due to preventable traffic accidents. In this case, the practice of immanent speculation would ask: what kind of conditions do we need in order to create a future where children are safe on the streets of Mexico City?

The concept of Immanent speculation comes from what Dr. Crisman calls “the projective imperative”:

“As scholars and as people living in society we have an imperative to really think about the future. Especially in academia, we often have a tendency to be very comfortable engaging with the past […] or perhaps the present […], but what does it mean to actually engage with the future? It’s a little scarier; it’s a little more open-ended; it’s a little more abstract. And nevertheless, I think there is still a moral-ethical obligation to actually engage with the future.”

Speculative humanities do not need to be intimidating. Although it is not common practice to look at the future within the disciplines of humanities, there are firm reasons to believe that applied humanities is the fertile ground where much of the seeds for the future of the world may be planted. The practice of immanent speculation draws from the knowledge of the concrete culture and places where it needs to be applied. The future already stems from these places and cultures; it is immanent to them.

Dr. Crisman provided case studies of how many modern urban practices are far from being new “modes” of urban life, like the use of bicycles or the reinvention of buildings into high-end markets, for instance. Long-standing cultural traditions are being reimagined into new practices. This is the case of street vending, a practice that has resulted in the birth of Uber Eats or the legalization of street vendors in Los Angeles. And it is precisely this knowledge of cultural traditions, urban spaces, and the human condition that provides the humanities with the tools to speculate and reimagine the future.

The talk ended with a round of questions for Dr. Crisman, the announcement of a possible future project for improving bicycle culture in Tucson, and a great selfie moment (below) in which you can appreciate the excellent work that the Playground, the College of Humanities and the sponsors did into turning a night club into an academic space.

I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Crisman in person. I was delighted with the projects he is working on including the study of multilingual cities, as well as with the prospect of a future interview for Urban Cultural Studies.

It is clear that designing urban spaces based on our understanding of the present is a necessity, but how applied humanities can contribute to this and other conversations about our collective future is the very topic of this year’s Humanities Festival: Next.


  • If you would like to learn more about Dr. Jonathan Jae-an Crisman, you can visit his profile at the University of Arizona’s Department of Public and Applied Humanities.
  • If you want to learn more about the Department of Public and Applied Humanities, where Dr. Benjamin Fraser, Chief editor of the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies and this blog is an affiliated faculty member, you can visit their website here.
  • To learn more about other projects from Dr. Crisman and the Urban Humanities team at UCLA, make sure to visit their website here.

UCS 008 Masterson-Algar on Ecuadorians in Madrid’s Retiro Park

UCS 008 Masterson-Algar on Ecuadorians in Madrid’s Retiro Park (8 October 2013)

Conversational interview inspired by scholar Araceli Masterson-Algar’s article “Juggling Aesthetics and Surveillance in Paradise: Ecuadorians in Madrid’s Retiro Park,” published in the International Journal of Iberian Studies (26.1-2, 2013). Mixing ethnography on the ground with Ecuadorian immigrants to Madrid with cultural analysis and discussion of urban planning, topics range from urban parks (the Retiro Park [the section known as La Chopera now home to the 11-M memorial and Forest of Memory], the Casa de Campo…) to Manuel Delgado’s urban anthropology and the dynamics of migration as tied to urban processes of tourism and capital accumulation. [LINK TO ORIGINAL PUBLISHER]

Gezi Park Events: Various Shades of the Opposition against the Authoritarian Rule

I dedicate this piece to those who lost their lives, limbs and loved ones during the Gezi Uprising in Turkey…

     Turkey was in the frontline of news in June 2013, due to a series of unpredicted events, in a country with a tradition of obedience culture, summarised by the well-known proverb “Let the snake that doesn´t touch me live a thousand years”. The events started with a very naïve sit-in in the GeziPark, a public park in the midst of Istanbul nearby Taksim Square, where large left-wing demonstrations were held during the 1970s. The sit-in was organised through Facebook and Twitter to invite people to gather and camp there. The sit-in aimed at protecting the park from being regenerated, one of the few green areas of Istanbul covered with grown trees, which later transformed into large-scale street demonstrations aiming at freedom and equality.

Taksim and Beyoglu: The Western Face of Istanbul

        Before I explain how we came to this point, I will provide the reader with a sense of the spaces which will be mentioned in this piece, being GeziPark, Beyoglu, and Taksim Square, all located in the largest city of the country, Istanbul. Until the June 2013 uprising, Gezi Park, instead of a place of destination, was a neglected and in-between place connecting work and education amenities. Its neglect was also fuelled by the proximity of Beyoglu, Cihangir, and Galata, old neighbourhoods with a cosmopolitan city life, including night clubs, cafes, restaurants, exhibition and art centres. Istanbul has always been a city of neighbourhoods segregated on the basis of a particular identity and way of life. In this respect, Taksim and the main district to which it belongs, Beyoglu, have been known for centuries as the western face of Istanbul, due to the non-Muslim and Levantine populations who lived in the area involved with trade and especially banking during the Ottoman Empire. These people were early adopters of a bourgeoisie lifestyle in the Ottoman Empire who brought a westernised way of life with particular consumption habits. Beyoglu has various non-Muslim places of worship (synagogues and churches) and is characterized by a built environment reflecting a European taste. After Non-Muslim populations gradually left Turkey during the Republican Era, Taksim and Beyoglu experienced periods of neglect, leading to the inflow of migrants from Anatolia. However, the area is still dominated by beautiful buildings and a mixed population of tourists, locals and passers-by, becoming more popular due to its gradual renewal and gentrification since the 1980. Similarly, Galata and Cihangir also experienced gentrification, and are preferred as a place of residence especially by artists, intellectuals and academics, being two neighbourhoods famous for their night life, arts and cultural events, cosmopolitan way of life, and old built environment. During the Republican period, the secular nation builders were clever to transform Taksim Square into a symbol of modern Istanbul. Taksim Square, where GeziPark is located, is also home to the AtaturkMonument, erected in 1928 to commemorate the Independence War and its heroes, including Ataturk, the founder of the TurkishRepublic. Since then, it has become the symbol of secularism and later of socialism during the 1970s, hosting large left-wing demonstrations, to commemorate 1st of May, Workers’ Day. The area was closed off to the public for left-wing demonstrations by the 1980 coup d’etat starting a neoliberal period of oppression. The Square’s modern identity was complemented by the Ataturk Cultural Centre, built in 1969 and then rebuilt in 1977 after to a fire, as the main centre for classical music concerts, opera and ballet performances until its closure in 2008, all of which make Taksim Square the “door to the modern Istanbul”.


The Taksim  Square: AtaturkMonument is located in the round area, with GeziPark in the upper right of the picture, the green area. The large block to the right is the Ataturk Cultural Centre, closed to the public since 2008. The Square is in the middle of the picture which became the site for left-wing demonstrations during the 1970s. The picture is taken from Google Earth.

Justice and Development Party: From Aspiration to the EU into a Society of Fear

         Here a couple of sentences are needed on the Justice and Development Party, the ruling party of Turkey since 2002 which adopts neoliberal economic policies but uses populist and conservative discourses to win over the masses, discussed also in recent blogs written by Taskale (2013) and Dikec (2013). The party can be regarded as the melting pot of different right-wing ideologies and is supported by the Islamic capital and denominations (Tanulku, 2012a).  Its main supporters are the immigrant masses living in large cities lacking in cultural capital, and unconcerned about the arts/culture (high culture) and the protection of heritage and environment. The Justice and Development Party’s populist discourses identify with the masses, who felt isolated and exploited, economically and socio-culturally in the face of an established secular urban culture. The party also Continue reading

the French Urban Periphery: Interdisciplinary Conference Organised by Banlieue Network

The Banlieue Far from the Clichés : New Voices, Images and Identities Emerging from the French Urban Periphery

Interdisciplinary Conference Organised by Banlieue Network

Oxford Brookes University, 3-4-5 April 2014

Call for Papers

Over the past few decades, the term “banlieue” has become synonymous with pockets of exclusion on the peripheries of most major French cities. Suburban areas have been the scene of urban violence since the early 1980s, but the riots which occurred in 2005, 2007 and 2010, have reached an unprecedented scale. In the wake of these outbreaks, media accounts and social commentators have highlighted the extent of the social divide in France between residents of disadvantaged urban peripheries and those of more affluent areas. Excluded and marginalised, suburban communities are located at the limits of French society, both literally and metaphorically. In mainstream society, the media-constructed image of the banlieues frequently provides the only insight into life in these underprivileged neighbourhoods. However, the prism of the media often tends to present a distorted image of reality. Focusing on issues of violence, immigration, integration, religion and identity, media and political discourses tend to favour the consolidation of negative stereotypes commonly associated with the suburbs.

However, in recent years, a new type of discourse has emerged that presents images of diversity, vitality and creativity, to counter the clichés of violence and delinquency. Projects which aim to introduce young people to writing, or to other forms of artistic creation, such as “Bondy Blog” or “Les Gars de Villiers”, seek to help them forge out a space in public and media arenas, as “to write is to exist” (Nordine Nabili). The publishing and film industries have also witnessed an explosion of stories referring to the suburbs. Some critics refer to a new literary and cinematic force, while others note the emergence of an urban culture that thrives on the creativity of residents from the suburbs. The resounding success of recent films such as “L’Esquive” (“Games of Love and Chance”) (Kechiche, 2003) or “The Untouchables” (Toldeano, Nakache, 2011), shows that the suburbs now occupies an important place in the minds of the majority of French people.

This conference is Continue reading

The contested space in Santiago: Clash between citizens and government within the civic district


by Francisco Vergara


It is well understood that good city is a place where citizenship, state and private world are represented, and coexisting in harmony and build successful relationships looking for general good. For Ash Amin, the good city is achieved when the urban order permits to enhance the human experience (Amin 2006). In this essay, it will be use the idea of ‘good city’ as a democratic space, which through conflicts can change the balance between government, citizens and private realm, to produce new space meanings. From this definition, appears an initial question that can launch other inquiries: How the conflict can improve the city in order to generate democratic spaces designed to receive a claiming citizenship? Find the answer is not a central topic for this essay, nevertheless here is explored a path to deepen the idea of democratic space towards produce better cities.

This essay presents…

View original post 3,046 more words

Initial Thoughts on ‘Total Landscape’

So here are my initial thoughts on the volume reblogged earlier on a recent book titled Total Landscape, Theme Parks, Public Space (2006) by Miodrag Mitrasinovic with Ashgate. I wanted to give the book a closer look before forming an opinion. And I still have questions as I haven’t gotten all the way through it yet…

The first issue is this: Continue reading

Worth a Read: Cafés in the City

If you’re unacquainted with the work of geographer Eric Laurier–who has authored publications with Chris Philo (whose book Selling Places edited with Gerry Kearns is a must-read)–you’re in for a treat.

What brought me into his work years ago were the catchy titles of his articles–I remember reading “How Breakfast Happens in the Café” and “Why People Say Where They Are During Mobile Conversations.” [I just saw his “Searching for a Parking Space” which sounds great also–but I haven’t had the time yet…]

Great research complemented by great writing–which isn’t always the case, of course.

For example, here’s the first paragraph from “Cold Shoulders and Napkins Folded: Gestures of Responsibility” (Laurier and Philo 2006):

“We find ourselves amongst others in the city. We are walking as pedestrians, pushing our way past others, making our excuses: ‘I’m running for a train’ (Lee and Watson 1993, 184). We are queuing at bus stops, letting others ahead. We are sitting on benches in the park feeding pigeons. We are holding open the doors of shops for others to pass through. We are hailing taxis. We are playing cards. We are eating in restaurants. We are drinking in bars. We are buying newspapers. We are hearing snatches of mobile phone conversations. We are catching one another’s eyes. We are waving at friends. We are shrugging our shoulders at this and laughing at that. / The city remains the place, above all, of living with others.” (Laurier and Philo 2006: 193)

The authors go on to discuss issues of public space, ethnomethodology and the city and refer to the work of Erving Goffman and Non-Representational Theorists…

Worth a Read.

Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in New York City

A new, exciting museum is being planned to keep alive the rich history of reclaimed urban space in New York City. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, MoRUS, will be located in the storefront of the historic East Village building C-Squat and will house artifacts like videos, photographs, fliers, posters and communiqués by grassroots community members who have squatted abandoned buildings, championed community gardens, and protested the restrictions placed on public space. MoRUS has the potential to strengthen transversal relays between activists and academics, and establish the environment and setting for new social creativity. However, it is not yet open to the public because it still needs additional funding. If you are interested, you can donate here:


Dr. Reena Tiwari published a book called Space-Body-Ritual: Performativity in the City in which she puts a reading of Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis to use in arguing for approaching the ‘city-as-body’, rather than ‘city-as-text’. It’s in my stack of current ‘to-reads’, and may be of interest to readers here.

Looking for information about the author, I came upon this Q&A, in which she touches on issues relating to urban architecture, public housing, poverty and migration. She makes some interesting points about making spaces that are ‘mixed’, both socioeconomically and public/private. Tiwari is both a scholar and an urban planner; is anyone here familiar with her book, or her work in general?

Note too that the website ( hosting this conversation may well be worth exploring, especially to readers interested in urban thought in Italy.