On Tuesday, Interboro had the pleasure of giving a lecture at one of its alma matters: Bard College, in beautiful Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Interboro spoke to Noah Chasin’s “Rights to the City” class, which exactly the sort of class that is regrettably missing from most liberal arts curricula. Judging from the popularity of the class–it has to be one of the biggest Bard classes ever, with about 50 students–students agree. Much has been written about the lack of education about the built environment in high school curricula, but the problem is equally pronounced in colleges, as well, where it is very easy to go four years without ever thinking about what just about everyone agrees will be one of the most important issues of this century: the increasing urbanization of our planet. Interboro recalls that when it was at Bard, a certain sentimental pastoralism ruled the day, an attitude that undermined the development of any sort of urban studies program. Having spoken to some very bright undergrads after the lecture, it seems that this sentiment, combined with some very strong, deeply embedded fears about the encroachment of professionalism into the liberal arts, is still evidenced, despite the efforts of people like Noah. Bard has a strong environmental studies program, but from what Interboro remembers, this is “environmental” more traditionally defined, “environmental” a la Rachel Carson as opposed to, say, Stephen Graham.
Spending half a day up there, it’s easy to see why you might dismiss the idea of urban studies in a place like Bard. Bard is in the sticks, and it feels that way sometimes. And it’s a sticks that acts on you, that makes you want to stoke a fire, sip a brandy and read transcendental poetry. But to paraphrase Amin and Thrift in their introduction to Cities: Reimagining the Urban, the city now is everywhere and in everything. They write: “If the urbanized world now is a chain of metropolitan areas connected by places / corridors of communication . . . Then what is not the urban? Is it the town, the village or the countryside? Maybe, but only to a limited degree. The footprints of the city are all over these places, in the form of city commuters, tourists, teleworking, the media, and the urbanization of lifestyles. The traditional divide between the city and the countryside has been perforated.” Bard, that is to say, is thoroughly urban, this despite the way it sometimes looks and feels.
Secondly, we might point to the fact that Bard is not far from two small cities: Hudson and Poughkeepsie.
Third, we should remember that in some traditional respects, campuses are like little cities; little patches of density and varied activity.
Interboro sincerely hopes to see some sort of urban urban studies program blossom at Bard. As an alum who has gone into the field, Interboro is a bit biased, of course, but it certainly appears as if such a program would be embraced by students.