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Release: June 12, 2000

UI symposium to outline connections between urban stories, planning

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Mayors, county supervisors, and other elected and appointed officials from around Eastern Iowa have been invited to join historians, literary theorists, geographers, urban planners and other scholars for a three-day symposium "Planning as Storytelling: Sustaining America's Cities" at the University of Iowa June 15-17

Symposium directors Barbara Eckstein, a UI associate professor of English, and James Throgmorton, a UI associate professor of urban and regional planning, say they hope to provide a deeper understanding of the relationship between urban planning and stories of urban life. They say that bringing historians and literary scholars together with those on the front lines of urban planning provides a unique opportunity for interaction between scholars and practitioners.

"What is at stake in such intertwined narratives is the fate of U.S. cities," Eckstein said. "This future depends on, in large part, the ability of various urban practitioners and theoreticians to hear the multiple stories of all those groups and individuals who have a stake in the economic well-being, environmental health, social justice, and ethical vivacity of urban life."

Historians record the past. Urban planners create projections for the future. Storytellers tell tales of life past, present, and future. Throgmorton said those involved in these seemingly disparate disciplines can learn a great deal from each other. "Planning could be thought of as a form of storytelling," he said. "It's how to connect the past of a city with its present and its future."

During the symposium, five practitioners will tell stories from their varied experiences in urban communities, and following those presentations, four "interpreters" will attempt to put those stories into the larger context of urban development.

Storytellers will include Joe Barthel, a private detective in California who works to defend low-income people accused of capital crimes; Liz Christiansen, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources administrator who works with solid waste disposal and was involved in the Linn County search for a new landfill site; Ken Reardon, a professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who is involved with a project committed to improving the quality of life in East St. Louis' poorest neighborhoods; Carlo Rotella, who teaches at Boston College and is writing a book on boxing, blues, crime stories, gambling, and other forms of culture with deep roots in city life; and Larry Wilson, a UI campus planner with wide-ranging experience in designing physical environments.

In the second half of the symposium, four urban scholars -- one historian, two planning theorists, and one geographer -- will attempt to bring the stories and their diverse ideas into the same conversation about the sustainability of U.S. cities. These "interpreters" include: Robert Beauregard, a professor of planning urban and public policy at the New School for Social Research in New York; Seymour Mandelbaum, a professor of urban history and planning at the University of Pennsylvania; Leonie Sandercock, a professor of planning at the University of Melborne, Australia; and Edward Soja, a professor of geography at University of California at Los Angeles.

More information on the symposium is available on the Web at

The symposium will be held in 304 English-Philosophy Building on the UI campus. There is no registration fee, but those who wish to attend are asked to RSVP to: Jay Semel, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, N134 Oakdale Hall, University of Iowa, IA 52242-5000 or e-mail:

Symposium sponsors include the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Humanities Iowa, the UI College of Liberal Arts, the Graduate College, the Office of the Provost, the department of English, and the department of urban and regional planning.