Building on the first grant, which engaged with the “egalitarian metropolis” in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Detroit, the renewed grant was awarded in 2019 ($1million) to now focus 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.

To address these challenges, the project proposes an integration of interdisciplinary teaching, research, and community engagement around the theme of the “egalitarian metropolis”:

  • Collaborative Community-based Education. Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (through their Residential College and Semester in Detroit units) will jointly offer a new interdisciplinary undergraduate course, “The Egalitarian Metropolis,” and expand an existing course/lecture series “Detroiters Speak.” Both courses will foreground the urban humanities as an interdisciplinary way of knowing that incorporates not only advanced scholarship but the perspectives of Detroit’s residents.
  • Collaborative Community-based Research. Working in collaboration with a number of pre-existing U-M initiatives, the Project will fund interdisciplinary research teams, including humanities scholars, architect-planners and community leaders/activists, whose research on egalitarian-oriented topics will seek to advance both the theory of the urban humanities and egalitarian practice in Detroit.

Central to all these activities is ArcPrep, a preparatory program in architecture (launched during the first Mellon grant) to introduce Detroit public high school juniors to the discipline of architecture and other related design careers. The ArcPrep program’s graduates embody the ideals of “the egalitarian metropolis” by creating a more diverse pool of design students and hopefully designers of the future.

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.

Principal Investigators

Robert Fishman, Ph.D., Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning; U-M Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Angela Dillard, Ph.D., Richard A. Meisler Collegiate Professor of Afroamerican & African Studies and in the Residential College; U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts