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UPDATED: April 1, 2016, at 2:44 p.m.
The Harvard Graduate School of Design kicked off a three-day event on Wednesday night with keynote speeches that focused on racial justice in St. Louis.
The conference, titled “Voices & Visions of St. Louis: Past, Present, Future,” is a “multi-year transdisciplinary conversation on questions of injustice, inequality, and racial exclusion in urban America,” according to the event program.
The event comes more than a year after outcry in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male, and subsequent non-indictment of Darren D. Wilson, the police officer responsible.
In his opening remarks, GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi called the conference a continuation of a series of events addressing design, space, and social justice at the school.
“This has been an incredibly important experience for the GSD community intellectually, emotionally, but really also in terms of the way in which the conversation has really affected our work in the school, our pedagogy,” Mostafavi said.
Mostafavi specifically cited the work of GSD instructor Daniel T. D’oca, who led a studio course last fall that focused on race in America and mapped the locations of streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It seemed like a lot of stars had aligned and a lot of people institutionally as well as citizens and the American public [were] interested in these types of questions,” said, Diane Davis, a GSD professor and chair of the school’s Department of Urban Planning and Design.
The event consisted of keynote speeches from associate professor of urban studies at The New School Joseph Heathcott, and Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed.
In his keynote speech, Heathcott detailed the historical antecedents of racial tension and segregation in St. Louis.
“Really amid the worst things of segregation in St. Louis, I would argue, black men and women honed the very tools needed to dismantle apartheid and so for us have left a legacy and a model to follow in terms of challenging racial injustice in America,” Heathcott said.
Nasheed focused on her experience in St. Louis, where she grew up. Nasheed said the city’s law enforcement, education system, and infrastructure have all failed its most disadvantaged residents.
To illustrate her point, Nasheed spoke about her loss of parents and previous arrests, which she said she overcame to eventually become a state senator.
“The senator’s speech had a reminder that we are not just studying, that we have to do actions and move forward to ensure that we are improving communities and people’s lives: that is what it is all about,” said Don Rowe, Director of Urban Planning and Design Agency in St. Louis.
The event ended with a keynote panel of Heathcott, Nasheed, Davis, and Senior Loeb Scholar David Harvey who fielded questions from a filled auditorium.
GSD, Divided City Initiative, and Washington University’s Center for the Humanities and the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design worked together to host the conference.
The conference continues tomorrow with four separate panels and will conclude on Friday with a student-led initiative to showcase on-going work on race, space, and design. Students are also planning a hackathon Saturday to work on projects that grow out of Friday’s event, according to Davis.
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