Below you’ll find the audio transcript from A Reflection on Cities@Tufts with Julian Agyeman.
About the Presenter
Julian Agyeman Ph.D. FRSA FRGS is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning and Fletcher Professor of Rhetoric and Debate at Tufts University. He is the originator of the increasingly influential concept of just sustainabilities, which explores the intersecting goals of social justice and environmental sustainability, and host of the Cities@Tufts lecture series.
About the Series
Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.
Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.
Register to participate in future Cities@Tufts events here.
Listen to the Cities@Tufts Podcast (or on the app of your choice):
“A Reflection on Cities@Tufts with Julian Agyeman” Transcript
Julian Agyeman: [00:00:06] Anybody who looks at the now three seasons of Cities@Tufts broadcasts will notice that predominantly the speakers are speakers of color. This was a conscious decision of mine, and we’ve always had that cutting edge, bringing in speakers whose voices are perhaps not heard as much. I think it’s really important to us. We’ve brought speakers in who are big names. We’ve brought speakers in who nobody knows their name. And I think that’s the beauty of the output that we’ve had.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:42] What is planetary gentrification and its tangible effects? Has institutionalized white supremacy led to isolationist attempts at addressing our climate crisis? And can reparative urban planning? Be the key to addressing distributive structural injustices. These are just a few of the questions we’re exploring this season on Cities@Tufts Lectures, a free live event and podcast series where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:12] We’re switching things up a bit for today’s show. Our planned speaker, Yasminah Beebeejaun, was unable to present last week, so we’re using this opportunity to take a deeper look into Cities@Tufts as a whole, with an extended conversation between myself and Professor Julian Agyeman. Over the next 30 minutes, we’ll discuss Julian’s path to Tufts University, the genesis of the Cities@Tufts Colloquium, how the speakers are chosen, highlights from the past few years, and a look into what’s coming next for this open education program.
[00:01:52] Hey, Julian, thanks for joining us for Cities@Tufts and being in the hot seat for once. Thanks, Tom. So just wondering if you could kind of just start by talking a little bit about what your interest in urban planning came from, how this led to your illustrious career?
Julian Agyeman: [00:02:07] Well, Tom, I started, basically, as a geography teacher up in the English Lake District in a city called Carlisle. And what I was really doing was taking kids out into the national park, and I was doing very kind of green work, if you like. And for a few years that was quite satisfying because my first degree was geography and botany. I was a bio geographer, an ecologist, but an opportunity came up in London in 1985 to work at what was called an urban study center. So it’s like the urban equivalent of a field study center, and it just rocked my world.
[00:02:46] All of a sudden, I realized that a love for the environment wasn’t enough. We needed policies and planning, especially in our cities, that really took account of issues of equity and social justice. You can’t look at urban field work or urban street work without understanding that some areas are better served by buses, some have more trees, some have more green spaces, and those are usually linked to issues of race and class. And so this really, I think, got me into thinking about cities in a different way to ways that I’d been trained as an ecologist. And it really went on from there. I did a master’s degree, I did a PhD and got very involved in urban planning. And part of the rationale as well is that, you know, the urban is the home for a majority on our planet and will continue to be that.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:03:44] Yeah. And how did you get to Tufts?
Julian Agyeman: [00:03:46] So I was running my own consulting business in London in the early nineties, really riding the wave of the highly successful, if you want to call it, that 1992 Earth Summit. So there was a flurry in Britain in the early nineties of local governments wanting to know about sustainable development. What does sustainable development mean at a local level? So I was doing a lot of training work with a whole bunch of friends of mine, and I also was just finishing my PhD at the University of London.
[00:04:21] And I thought, you know, it’d be nice to have a year to go and teach in an American university just to see if I liked it. And I taught at a little school called Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, and I decided I liked it, but it was only a one-year contract. And then two jobs came up. One was in Vancouver at Simon Fraser University, and then the other one was at Tufts. And when I saw the job description at Tufts, I thought somebody wrote this job description for me. I mean, it was literally everything that I wanted.
[00:04:56] And 23 years on, I still think that way. I’m still invigorated by and excited by the job that I have and the potential that it still has. So that’s how I got to Tufts. And I’m now a professor in urban and environmental policy and planning, so I’ve got the best of both worlds, really urban and environmental policy and planning.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:05:19] I guess at a certain point in time in your career, you get to chart your path a little bit more than maybe you did earlier on.
Julian Agyeman: [00:05:25] Yeah, Well, I think careers are in part serendipity as well. Being in the right place at the right time, that phone call from somebody — careers are a bit like that. So when I was a kid or when I was teaching high school geography 40 years ago this year, did I know that I was going to be a professor of urban planning? No, I didn’t. But in many ways, my interests and skills have taken me to this place and I’m very comfortable here.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:05:57] And it seems like that’s part of the path that led to the development of Cities@Tufts. And I’m wondering if you can just kind of speak to the genesis of this program and then kind of how it has evolved into this colloquium.
Julian Agyeman: [00:06:08] Yeah. Well, first let me just say a little bit about the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts. I mean, so I came in June 1999 and it was much smaller, about half the number of faculty that we have now. It was much more US-focused, and I was the only quote unquote, international academic. I was also the only academic of color who was tenured, if you like. We’re a much bigger department now and a much more diverse department, but we’ve always had a very strong vein of social justice and equity as part of urban planning.
[00:06:49] And so what I’ve done through my presence and being chair for six years and then being chair next year when I go back in January. What I’ve done is really deepened that commitment to social justice and equity. We have now a faculty that is much more reflective of America today. 40% of our tenured faculty are faculty of color, and over 50% of our faculty are women — and of the non-tenured faculty, a third of our faculty are people of color. So it’s a very much more diverse, complex department.
[00:07:29] And really the idea for Cities@Tufts came from a very inspiring program at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was over there as a visiting professor, and I got to understand how they had crafted a transdisciplinary program called Urban at UW. And so we at Cities@Tufts are, in a sense, aiming to be one day more like that, which is a very well-structured program. But the focus of Cities@Tufts really is several fold. One is to provide a platform across the university for researchers who are doing urban research of any kind — urban psychology, urban economics, urban child care — to provide a platform for that, and then second, to provide a speaker series to speak to some of the issues that urban planning students especially have concerns about.
[00:08:29] Now, when Cities@Tufts started pre-COVID, it was all in person. So we had a very limited number of people that we could bring in and we had a limited audience. It was just Tufts students. But the combination of COVID and having to go online with the cities at Tufts Colloquium and then our relationship with UEP and Shareable really brought us to a much bigger audience. And really now has provided a convincing rationale to keep the colloquium online because we can just bring in so many people and so many more people than we could if it were in person.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:09:06] And I’m wondering, can you speak a little bit to the — you spoke to giving a platform, providing an in for both for, you know, urban planning, urban design practitioners and researchers to be able to speak to audiences in ways that may not be able to find audiences, but also for new audiences to be able to find this information beyond just those that might be students at Tufts or students of any university. And I’m wondering if you can speak to a little bit about, yeah, so that kind of desired impact that the program is having on the field as a whole.
Julian Agyeman: [00:09:40] Sure. Well, you know, let me start by saying anybody who looks at the now three seasons of Cities@Tufts broadcasts will notice that predominantly the speakers or speakers of color. This was a conscious decision of mine for several reasons. One is that, I mean, so we are the number one master’s only urban planning program in the United States, according to Planetizen magazine. And we’ve always had that cutting edge. Our founder, Hermann Field, before he passed, said, “Don’t let UEP lose its cutting edge,” and I intend to hold him to his word.
[00:10:23] So bringing in speakers whose voices are perhaps not heard as much I think is really important to us. We’ve brought speakers in who are big names. We’ve brought speakers in who nobody knows their name. And I think that’s the beauty of the output that we’ve had. In terms of reaching out beyond our students. It’s been a great success. We have practitioners, we have retired people who are just curious about the topic. We have people overseas coming to our broadcast directly — and I’m sure that our podcasts and recordings are recorded by many other people. So we’re now building up, I think, a bank of resources on hot topics, but coming from voices that are not necessarily heard as often as the louder voices, if you like.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:11:19] Yeah. I mean, I think you just spoke to that very well, but good examples of that is, you know, having Kate Raworth come and speak and talk about Doughnut Economics and the work that’s happening around the world and, you know, and then also having somebody like Rashad Williams.
Rashad Williams: [00:11:32] I framed the Minneapolis rebellion and the ensuing political crisis as a political grammatic break. This is a moment where there’s kind of a weakening of the ideological or ideational constraints that would otherwise rule reparations as something that is too far out there, right? Too utopian. Unfeasible. Those sorts of things. What is the political grammatic break between? It’s between a liberal culture or a liberal individualist framework and a structuralist, or perhaps we might say, materialist way of thinking about racial inequality and racial justice.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:12:08] An up-and-coming academic talking about models of reparative planning and looking at what crisis, anti-racism and reparations can look like in cities like Saint Paul and Minneapolis. And can go really focused and also be really broad and draw in lots of different audiences, but also be able to convey many different aspects of urban planning and design to audiences of all kind.
Julian Agyeman: [00:12:34] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, and if I were to pick out a highlight, it was getting Kate Raworth to do a fantastic presentation on Doughnut Economics, which really fits very well with my concept of just sustainabilities. This idea that we mustn’t transgress the environmental ceiling, but we also mustn’t let people fall below the social foundation so that space between the ceiling and the floor is this notion of just sustainability or the doughnut of a safe operating space, a regenerative operating space for humanity.
Kate Raworth: [00:13:14] 20th-century economics told us we should be self-interested with money in hand and ego and heart and a calculator in head. The challenge is, of course, this is a tiny fraction of who we are. And so we need a much richer notion of our economic roles because we also, in relation to the state, can be a public servant, a teacher, medical worker, and we can be a resident of the state and the city, a voter and a protester, all of them key roles that we play in relation to the state in the household partner, parent, relative, child.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:13:43] And that was an early on talk. You know, I think we had that back in the first season. But there’s there’s been a lot of really amazing guests. And I wonder if you could just speak to any other ones that kind of raise the top in your memory.
Julian Agyeman: [00:13:55] Well, to pick out favorite moments would be — it just wouldn’t work. But we’ve had everyone like like you say, I mean, at the moment I’m thinking so much about the work that Rashad Williams has done and how it coincides with my work about the shift from racial planning to reparative planning. And what we’re finding is that there are good examples of Evanston, Illinois, for instance, looking at reparative planning in terms of housing policy.
[00:14:25] Minneapolis is looking at its parks, its fantastic legacy in parks in terms of increasing access to those who were denied access. And so what we’re seeing is cities are starting to shift on a piecemeal basis towards reparative planning. But we’ve yet to find where is the city where the paradigm has shifted. We are going to change our whole urban planning effort towards reparative planning. That’s the goal. So that was a highlight early on. Dean Saitta from University of Denver talks about intercultural urbanism, which again is very similar to my idea of just sustainable cities.
Dean Saitta: [00:15:08] Cities of the ancient world where cosmopolitan, equitable and resilient — maybe even more so than those of the modern world. They embed principles of planning and design that I think we have to translate for modern use, and I think we have to scale up for modern use. And my argument is, is I think they can benefit planning and city building in the global north and maybe even elsewhere. And then thirdly, cities of the ancient world can help enrich our planning imagination if we’re interested in things like inclusion, equity, justice and sustainability.
Julian Agyeman: [00:15:46] People talking about punitive cities and how cities can be punitive.
Stacey Sutton: [00:15:50] Chicago has more residents that have filed for bankruptcy than any city or municipality in the country and bankruptcy based on tickets. More residents than are filed for bankruptcy because of tickets. Just let that sink in. That, to me, suggests this is a punitive city.
Julian Agyeman: [00:16:11] What I think really impressed me most is how synergistic all of these ideas are. Everybody is starting to think towards the same goal. They have different methodologies, perhaps different foci. But really the focus in all of this work has been how do we move towards the more just and sustainable city? You know, that’s the millennial challenge.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:16:38] The other thing that’s really stood out for me is just how much of a global issue this is. This is not just something that’s happening in the United States. As we have heard from speakers, you know, that are working in the favelas in Brazil, you know, that are trying to tackle gentrification in Barcelona, many different things across the United States, thinking about seven generation cities and kind of what kind of sacred civics might look like, you know, pulling from Jane Engles work in Canada. So there is a global perspective that starts to come together, and I think that’s really important I think for students that are getting to hear these voices of people that are that are addressing these issues globally, but I think also for practitioners.
[00:17:23] And that’s one of the things that stood out to me is just all the different people that are participating, that are showing up to attend these seminars. You have people that are community organizers that are trying to figure out ways to address gentrification in their communities. You have noted people that are working in mobility and transportation, you know, like Robin Chase, you know, who co-founded Zipcar, attending the sessions to be able to increase her education and understand what’s going on in the field.
Julian Agyeman: [00:17:53] And Charles T. Brown talking about arrested mobility, which is a fascinating concept.
Charles T. Brown: [00:17:59] Arrested mobility is the assertion that Black people and other minorities have been historically and presently denied by legal and illegal authority the inalienable right to move, to be, or to simply exist in public space. Unfortunately, this has resulted and continues to result in adverse social, political, economic, environmental and health effects that are widespread and intergenerational. But they are preventable, which is why we’re here talking about it today.
Julian Agyeman: [00:18:31] Yeah. So all of these people, I think, have been really, you know, contributing to a very rich archive of critical, cutting-edge urban planning work. And again, I think what we’re trying to do, Tom, is to rework a narrative for urban planning that is much more inclusive than it has been in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong. I mean, in the sixties and seventies, in urban planning, there was the movement for equity planning, but it really was led by enlightened white chief planning officers, rather than being more ground up in terms of the reparations movement, Black Lives Matter movement. These movements are starting to develop a new narrative, and I think this is one of the things that we’re capturing in Cities@Tufts.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:19:25] And on the desire to kind of stay on this cutting edge, like you were saying, you know, are there dream guests that you haven’t had on that you are hoping at some point in time to be able to come and speak as part of the colloquium?
Julian Agyeman: [00:19:39] Well, there’s always other people. Yeah. And I mean, some, you know, are people like Professor Robert Bullard, who I do know, but he’s exceptionally busy. He’s the father of environmental justice. I would love to interview Boston Mayor Michelle Wu because her climate change, her food justice, her urban planning agenda really reflects my just sustainability ideas. It would be nice to perhaps have somebody like Secretary Buttigieg to talk about freeway removal and the funding for the so-called Reconnecting Communities program, because this program is a reparations program. Perhaps the government doesn’t use that phrase so much. But, you know, if we want to heal communities, if we want to reconnect communities by taking down freeways, then that is an act of reparation.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:20:41] Those would all be amazing guests. And also there’s some pretty wonderful guests that are coming up, you know, in the spring semester of 2023. You know, folks like Andrea Roberts at the University of Virginia, you know, who is a planning historian, theorist and public humanities scholar who was the founder of the Texas Freedom Colonies Project. You know, you’ve got [00:21:03] Vikas Mehta coming from University of Cincinnati, who is focused on kind of urban streets and the heterogeneous, multicultural, multigenerational and multi-use public space that streets can and maybe should be. The list goes on. Steve Kadish from Harvard, Aseem Inam [00:21:25] from Cardiff. And so the program I think is continuing in an exciting direction. And I think that we’ll be able to get to bringing in some of those speakers that you referenced.
Julian Agyeman: [00:21:35] Totally. Well, you know, I mean, I know you’re going to ask me, you know, how do you choose guests? Well, they’re all they’re all FOJ’s — friends of Julian. And this is payback time. No, these are all friends. And in our network, we have a kind of reciprocal agreements that, you know, you do this for me, I’ll do the same for you. And so we are elevating voices of urban planning, academics, urban design, academics like [00:22:04] Vikas and Aseem, [00:22:06] who again, I’m not saying we wouldn’t be heard, but we want to be heard on our own terms. And so we are elevating each other’s voices, I think, in this process. Yeah.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:22:19] And that’s a really important aspect of, of strengthening the field. It includes the lifting up of these voices and providing this information to the next generation of urban planners, both very key kind of aspects of that. And kind of speaking of providing a platform and allowing people to speak on their own terms and be heard and kind of amplifying that. What if you can just kind of speak a little bit to how this partnership with Sharable has been able to kind of increase the reach and impact of Cities@Tufts?
Julian Agyeman: [00:22:49] Yeah, it’s I mean, again, a serendipitous issue in many ways in that, you know, I’ve been involved with Shareable for six or seven years and we started Cities@Tufts just doing it with Tufts students. And then I think a couple of chance conversations with yourself, with Neal, really opened my eyes to the possibility that this could be more of a partnership approach and that there are opportunities in that to bring in more activists, more people who are not necessarily urban planning, academics or students, but who could use, you know, ideas about gentrification, ideas about all of these different kinds of issues that we’re discussing.
[00:23:33] I think we are developing the finest archive of critical, underrepresented voices who need to be heard, especially by activists, planning students, other planning academics and what Shareable has bought through its media savvy that we don’t necessarily have is a much extended audience potential, if you like. You know, I would say you probably have the data, but probably at least half of our audiences are bought in by Shareable and its networks.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:24:09] And that’s through — that’s been made possible by the, you know, you speak to the archive, the fact that we are doing a human-edited transcript of every single lecture and making that available to the public. That we are being able to take the live lectures and turn them into full-length and short clip videos that we’re able to create, podcasts that people can listen and also do visual content looking at the talks as a whole and, and kind of summarizing the points down into graphic recordings so that we can really meet many different types of learners and that we can find people that would be interested in this type of content on many different channels by translating the lectures in all the different ways that we are, it’s made, I think, a really big difference
[00:25:00] And and like you said, it’s, you know, we are able to bring in lots of organizers, activists, people on the ground and the larger international network that of of readers and practitioners that Shareable is a part of is kind of a great example of the types of people that are showing up to participate in this series. I’m wondering now that you said this is the sixth semester that this program has gone on and, you know, the next year is in development, I’m wondering, kind of, how would you like to see this program evolve over time?
Julian Agyeman: [00:25:35] Well, I think it’s evolved over these six semesters, these three years, in exactly the way we wanted to evolve it. It has gained traction. Our speakers are uniformly excellent and experts in their field. I want to keep on doing more of that. Raising up junior voices, obviously bringing in established voices as well. But just really keep on doing more and more, reaching into different aspects of urban planning issues, if you like. I mean, you know, obviously hot topics, gentrification, reparations, these are hot topics, but there are other topics out there that we can look to as well. We’ve had a pretty good coverage. But, you know, I’m always on the lookout for the next generation of potential speakers. And it’s not uncertain that I won’t use some of the early speakers to come back and talk about the work they’re doing now, three years on, if you like.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:26:43] And kind of as we wrap up this conversation, now that you are the chair of the department, this is one of your flagship programs as chair, how are you feeling about your own career and as you get towards the twilight now as an elder statesman in the urban planning space, what would you like to look back on and be able to measure your impact?
Julian Agyeman: [00:27:08] Well, I don’t look back, Tom. I just keep looking forward. And, you know, I’ve got so many projects and so many ideas for the future in terms of new books, new additions to the book series that I’m series editor of, new ideas for articles and directions for Local Environment, the International Journal of Justice and Sustainability that I was co-founder of nearly 30 years ago and editor-in-chief of. So I don’t take my legacy lightly. And obviously I am at this time thinking about legacy issues.
[00:27:47] But I think with the impacts that I’ve had in so many aspects, from writing to growing the department to editing a journal to being series editor of two very well received book series, and now the, you know, the co-archivist of Cities@Tufts and developing a brilliant archive — you know, I’m looking back in a way that simply drives me forward more. Realizing, you know, we’re doing the right thing. We’ve hit the motherlode. Let’s mine it for all it’s worth. And that’s what I intend to do.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:28:28] All right. Well, thanks so much, Julian. It was great getting to kind of dive into the history, your personal history, but also the history of this program at Cities@Tufts and some of the highlights and kind of where things are, things are at and where they’re going. I think that was a really kind of important way for people to get a better idea about why it is that this program exists and what we’re hoping to achieve.
Julian Agyeman: [00:28:49] Yeah, absolutely. Tom, again, thanks. Thanks. You know, on behalf of Tufts University for the great partnership we’ve had with Sharable on this and the Barr Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and potential future funders, We couldn’t have done this. We couldn’t have had this reach and impacted this number of people without the assistance that we’ve had. So it’s a great partnership and let’s keep it going.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:29:16] All right. We’ll see you again next semester.
Julian Agyeman: [00:29:17] All right. Thanks, Tom.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:29:23] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. You can access the video, transcript, and graphic recordings of this conversation with Julian on shareable.net. There’s a direct link in the show notes. This was our final episode of the year. After a short break, we’ll be back in January with a full slate of new lectures during our spring semester.
[00:29:43] Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Kresge, Barr, and Shift Foundations. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Caitlin McLennan and Deandra Boyle. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor. Zanetta Jones manages communications, Alison Huff manages operations, Anka Dregnet illustrated the graphic recording, Caitlin MacLennan created the original portrait, and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn.
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