Bridging the Divide: Celebrating the City the Fourth ACSP/AESOP Joint Congress, Chicago, 2008

Article excerpt

'Make no little plans,' said Daniel Burnham, the celebrated maker of the Plan of Chicago, 1909, because 'they have no magic to stir man's1 blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work ?'. The fourth joint ACSP and AESOP Congress in Chicago took Burnham's advice to heart. With 1124 participants from over 40 countries, the Chicago Joint Congress broke all previous records to become the largest gathering ever of planning scholars in the United States and Europe. It had been 17 years since the two associations held their first joint congress in Oxford in 1991, followed by further joint meetings in Toronto (1996) and Leuven (2003). The joint congresses have provided not only a forum for intellectual exchanges in the field of planning, but also an opportunity for better understanding of the working practices and institutional traditions of the two associations. They have proved to be an effective way of bridging the divides and celebrating diversity.

Chicago: the city

Chicago offered a magnificent place for celebrating the city and experiencing the lasting legacy of an influential plan. The city is home of the well-known 1909 Chicago Plan by Burnham and Bennett, the 1893 World 's Columbian Exposition, important twentieth-century architecture, a dramatic mayor-led city greening programme, the acclaimed Millennium Park, the American Planning Association, the Congress for New Urbanism, summer festivals and diverse neighbourhoods. The contrast between a downtown sky-line, to match any in the world, with the vast Lake Michigan was a startling urban experience as well as being a stunning example of new city planning and adventurous urban design. The level of architectural and planning awareness in the city was astonishing, with tourist boat trips dedicated to architectural excursions.

The congress venue was the colossal Marriott Downtown hotel, located on Magnificent Mile - a one-mile boulevard lined up with some of the best architectural heritage of Chicago and representing the legacy of the Chicago Plan.

Chicago: the host

The Congress host was the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs (CUPPA) based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC is a large, public, comprehensive research university with 25,000 students located on the edge of Chicago's vibrant downtown - the famous Loop. It has an explicit 'Great Cities Commitment' which is led by CUPPA. Its Urban Planning and Policy Department is the largest graduate planning programme in the United States with more than 200 students and a distinguished faculty.

The congress theme

The conference theme, 'bridging the divide: celebrating the city', focused attentions on the mediating role of cities. Many cities around the world remain divided and contested. The ways in which they are structured and managed sometimes play a role in reproducing identities that promote racial, ethnic, religious or territorial conflicts. A key question arising from the congress theme was: how could innovative approaches to planning and governance help to bridge these divides? Hence, the congress invited papers and debate which reflected on the nature of these divides and the role that cities play in spanning them, through, for example, place-shaping, infrastructure development, governance, fostering of bridging social capital, capacity building, promoting environmental justice, reducing health disparities, and creating mechanisms for conflict resolution.

The metaphor of 'bridge building' also captured the spirit of the ongoing relationships between ACSP and AESOP, and between them and the wider community of planners across the globe. The latter has been particularly strengthened after the World Planning Schools Congress in Shanghai in 2001, which led to creation of the Global Planning Education Network (GPEAN). So, the congress theme was a call to build bridges in scholarship by sharing international perspectives and experiences on the role of cities in mediating conflict. …