As the world grows increasingly urban, so grows the imperative to more fully comprehend the space of our collective life. Nowhere is this more urgent than in the context of intensely interactive, rapidly expanding cities of the Pacific Rim. Urban humanities offer an emerging paradigm to explore the lived spaces of dynamic proximities, cultural hybridities, and networked interconnections. The complexity of such spaces calls for new intellectual and practical alliances between environmental design and the humanities and for the advanced tools that each brings to bear on its objects of investigation. Urban humanities integrates the interpretive, historical approaches of the humanities with the material, projective practices of design, to document, elucidate, and transform the cultural object we call the city.
In December 2012, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation granted us generous funding for three years, so that we might establish UCLA as an internationally recognized hub for collaborative study of urbanism that bridges design and the humanities. Our own megacity, Los Angeles, demonstrates the power of art, film, and fiction, to create an urban imaginary, and it will serve as an anchor for investigation over all three years of the Mellon funding. The UCLA faculty’s great depth as well as breadth of scholarship about our own region provides the foundation for comparative study of megacities on the Pacific Rim, examined in sequence: Tokyo (2013–14), Shanghai (2014–15), and Mexico City (2015–16). In 2016 the Mellon Foundation awarded a new grant to the Urban Humanities Initiative, with the aim of strengthening the existing graduate program and laying the foundation for an undergraduate program.
Visiting scholars and designers from these cities will be invited to contribute to the Initiative. Each year, seminars and studios will be linked by a broad conceptual theme which demonstrates overlapping cultural and historical dynamics, including: risk and resilience, identity, and density. The Initiative will support new seminars, modification of existing courses, multi-disciplinary studios with travel to our focus city, travel, guest lectures and scholars from focus cities, and research—all intended to build the intellectual and pedagogical context for the nascent cross-disciplinary field of urban humanities that can be sustained thereafter at UCLA.
We propose to (a) lay the groundwork for an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in urban humanities, (b) undertake a research and teaching collaboration at UCLA among its acclaimed programs in the humanities, architecture, and planning, and (c) generate new and varied forms of creative output that demonstrate the rich terrain where urbanism, design, and the humanities overlap.