The Case For Cities - Conversations

Over the past few years, open any newspaper, news station or your social media, and you’d easily think American cities are doomed. Discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic and urban protests against racial inequality often suggest that our cities are at the heart of America’s health, sustainability, and equity crisis. If some are to be believed, cities are reeling from an exodus of residents, office jobs, retailers, and restaurants. Two decades of urban renaissance may well come undone over a short span of time. 

We disagree.

More than ever before, it is time to counter the doomsayers. Most importantly, cities are not the source of America’s current predicaments - cities are the ultimate solution to a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable America. Cities have survived millennia of destruction, derision and disinterest, consistently re-emerging to fuel and nourish our hunger for human progress. Cities will re-emerge again.

Cities of choice and justice

We see the urban glass as half full, especially for mid-sized Midwestern cities like Cincinnati. As America is reconsidering its distribution of wealth and growth - both between cities and between its citizens - we see cities like Cincinnati as uniquely equipped to lead the way. We can expect more Americans than ever before to discover our cultural life, our natural splendor, and our vibrant yet accessible neighborhoods. We need to understand how to build on this newfound interest to make us cities of choice, but also how to ensure just growth for all citizens. In other words, we need to prove and improve our cities to become more attractive and more equitable. 

This was not another lecture or webinar series on our current urban issues. For nine Wednesday night in 2020, conversations between national and local thought leaders unveiled different perspectives on how we can build better cities of choice and justice. Conversationalists didn't just talk to us, but with each other, unveiling and generating new perspectives. Specifically, they discussed how design, economics, social justice, and sustainability prove the merit of cities and improve urban attractiveness and equity.

This conversation series was organized by the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning, hosted by the Mercantile Library, and graciously supported by the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. 

Past Schedule of Events

Why do cities matter? 
Sept. 30, 2020
Bruce Katz, James Johnson-Piett

Rekindling our love for cities - hosted by Conrad Kickert

Our kick-off conversation focused on the merits of cities. Why should we care about our cities - both during our current challenges and into the future? What do our cities do for us, and what can we do for our cities? Two national thought leaders Bruce Katz (Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University; New Localism) and James Johnson-Piett (Urbane Development) discussed how we can prove and improve our cities as places of choice and justice.


The public city.
Oct 28, 2020
Ken Greenberg, Jeff Hou

Public spaces, social and political places - hosted by Vikas Mehta

Public space reflects the identity and image of a city: it is the barometer of a city. In profound or mundane ways public space affects us all. Public space has an uplifting potential for cities and its people. The quality of public space is one of the most important measures of the quality of life in cities and neighborhoods. In cities, large and small, the realization that public space is essential to our well-being has generated a newfound interest and investment in public space that has brought citizens back to urban cores. At the same time, the social and political uprisings have reinforced the role of public space as the geography of the public sphere and a place to express diverse opinions and demand justice.

The healthy city. 
Nov 18, 2020 

Creating healthy neighborhoods, supporting healthy people - hosted by Christopher Auffrey

Well planned cities offer density and mixed land uses so residents might walk, bike or take efficient transit to work, shopping or entertainment. They can offer a low carbon footprint with abundant access to jobs, education, culture and nature, as well as high quality services that promote healthy lifestyles with opportunities for full self-realization and contribution. Yet the health benefits of cities are not equally shared, as continuing health disparities across neighborhoods are shocking. Speakers discussed the changes we need to make to extend opportunities for healthy, fulfilling lives to all urban residents.

The entrepreneurial city. 
Dec 9, 2020
Julie Wagner, Allen Woods

Innovation and growth to lift all boats - hosted by Conrad Kickert

More than anywhere else, new ideas and new businesses grow in cities. Local and national thought leaders discussed how we can promote entrepreneurship and innovation in cities like Cincinnati, boosting economic value and investor interest while promoting equitable growth from within.

The moving city. 
Jan 27, 2021 
Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Equitable, sustainable transportation in cities - hosted by Vikas Mehta

Good access is fundamental for people to reap the benefits of the myriad social and economic opportunities that cities offer. A city that is walkable and bikable and well-connected by transit provides efficiency and equity, while also bringing diverse groups together in a shared space of mobility. Places that consider good mobility and transit as a public good are able to deliver a better urban experience to residents - and become more attractive as places of choice to newcomers.

The living city. 
Feb 24, 2021 
Joe Cortright, Liz Blume

Housing for growth and equity - Hosted by Christopher Auffrey

Since 2000, some Cincinnati neighborhoods have enjoyed a renaissance as part of the back to the city movement by creatives, empty nesters and others, generating substantial investment and soaring property values that have bolstered the local tax base. Yet, over the same period the number of Cincinnati households in poverty has grown by 40% while the number of affordable housing units has declined. Speakers explored the tradeoffs between Cincinnati’s expanding affluence and changes in the availability of affordable housing, and how the city might strike a balance between attracting affluent residents and maintaining affordable housing.

The well-fed city. 
March 24, 2021 
Joe Hansbauer, Amy Hunter

How food can satisfy our needs and wants - Hosted by Conrad Kickert

While ingredients come in from the countryside, food brings people and perspectives together in cities like Cincinnati. While we are known for satisfying hunger - from daily groceries to hip restaurants - many Cincinnatians lack access to fresh, affordable food. We discussed how our unique food and drink culture has placed Cincinnati on the national map, and how we can ensure that all Cincinnatians can benefit from the best we have to offer.

The green city.
April 14, 2021
Carla Walker, Billy Fleming, James J.T. Connolly

Balancing nature and justice  - Hosted by Danilo Palazzo

Nature and cities have been considered dichotomous or even opposites for a long time in history. What if equity and justice are added too? Can a green city also be a just city? The session discussed how environmental and social justice can be put at risk when greening projects are in fact supporting gentrification instead of supporting them.

Justice, urbanism, and anti-urbanism
May 5, 2021 
Steven Conn

Building cities of choice and justice - Hosted by Conrad Kickert

As we concluded our conversation series, we discussed how to plan, design, and advocate for cities that are places of choice and of justice. What forces help us prove and improve our cities? What forces hinder us?