Published: 05/25/2024

Project Term: 2013-2022

/ Faculty Projects

The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis

The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis is a two-part program awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The first project grant ($1.3 million) was awarded in 2013, and the second renewal grant ($1 million) was awarded in 2019. The Program explores contemporary issues on urbanism and egalitarianism, and is an interdisciplinary collaboration between faculty and students at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

Part I Aims

The Program’s first project grant (2013-2019) sought to examine the contemporary metropolis through the framework of egalitarianism, where a market-based or capitalist-driven imperative is not assumed, but rather a theory of value is based on the inherent equality of individuals, and on some notion of a fair distribution of resources. Egalitarianism, however, is a contested ideal, ranging from notions of equality of opportunity to equality of outcome, spawning notions such as “distributive justice” and “democratic equality.” Even with renewed interest in urbanization and social justice, the role of egalitarian theory and practice must be engaged further to produce an “urban egalitarianism,” which could conceptually insist upon corrective measures that attempt to provide equality to those that have been historically marginalized by race, class, gender, sexual identity, and other markers of ‘otherness.’ It is through this conceptual theme that various project activities were governed across three different site locations: metropolitan Detroit, Mexico City DF, and Rio de Janeiro. The project explored these contemporary urban issues through the lenses of urban/architectural design and the humanities, resulting in a series of symposia, colloquia, lecture and seminar courses, post-graduate fellowships, and public exhibitions.

Part II Aims

Building on the first grant, which engaged with the “egalitarian metropolis” in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Detroit, the renewed grant (2019-2022) is now focusing on the city of Detroit. After a half-century urban crisis that fundamentally undermined equality, and brutally conjoined patterns of residential segregation with racism, ethnic intolerance and discrimination, Detroit’s partial recovery has provoked a profound “urban conversation” over the aspiration voiced by Detroit’s previous Planning and Development Director, Maurice Cox, that “Detroit’s recovery will be the most inclusive of any American city.” The urban humanities can and must be part of this conversation.

To do so, however, requires a reorientation of the urban humanities around two distinct challenges that the project seeks to address: (i.) humanistic urban scholarship, based on the close reading of selected texts and images, is being challenged and potentially enriched by a plethora of new, mostly-digital methodologies in mapping, hypertext, big data etc. that are radically destabilizing traditional representations of the city; and (ii.) the seemingly authoritative stance of academic criticism, research, and top-down urban design is being challenged by the essential need to incorporate diverse voices and perspectives of citizens and residents as integral elements in the urban humanities. The project proposes an integration of disciplines and stakeholders around the theme of the “egalitarian metropolis,” as a means of producing collaborative, community-based education and research.

Overall, the project seeks to transform The Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis into an “Urban Humanities Initiative” at the University of Michigan that is organized around a partnership of humanists, architects/urban designers/planners, and community leaders. The project’s commitment to research and teaching aims to not only model a future for these disciplines, but to also demonstrate how the urban humanities can be effective partners in the movement for more inclusive cities.

About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Grant

The Mellon Foundation’s Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities is a new initiative in the Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program interested in establishing multidisciplinary research programs that can generate new insights into changing urban conditions, as well as curricula that would prepare students to tackle the urban problems of the future. The initiative supports projects that bring together humanists, architects, and social scientists around urban questions. For more information visit The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation website.


Robert Fishman

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