“The city, the city, my Dear Brutus – stick to that and live in its full light. Residence elsewhere, as I made up my mind in early life, is mere eclipse and obscurity to those whose energy is capable of shining in Rome.”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero
The city is a marvelous, intriguing place of surprise and stimulation: a place for people who work, play, live, and require a dynamic environment. But many cities have fallen on hard times. In 1900, only 10% of the human population lived in cities. Today, it is 50%. The expectation is that it will reach 75% by 2050. There is just cause for a thorough and urgent re-evaluation of our urban environments.
The detrimental impact of suburban sprawl and urban blight can be seen on the economic, environmental, and vibrancy of social life in cities. Cities struggle with a variety of complex issues: the rise of privatization of formerly public spaces including shopping districts, streets, and parks; increasing technological surveillance; the demise of public space; a decreasing tax base; aging infrastructures; the loss of small businesses and the rise of the global retailer.
Yet at the same time, many cities are thriving. Old neighborhoods are being revitalized. Decaying industrial zones are being turned to new uses. Abandoned rail yards and tracks have become parks and recreation areas. Positive change is not only possible but necessary.
While cities have been viewed traditionally as financial, commercial, and industrial entities, a growing body of scholarship is examining cities from the perspective of communication theory. What exactly do we mean by “communication” in this context?
We start from the premise that cities themselves function as a medium of communication, arguably among the world’s oldest forms of media and communication. Cities are places where messages are created, carried, and exchanged by structures, infrastructures, and people. “Urban communication” is the meshing, for better or worse, of technology and social interaction.
“Urban communication” reflects both an emergent and interdisciplinary field. It provides a fresh perspective from which to view the city and its transformation. Economists, geographers, sociologists, urban planners, environmental psychologists, artists, and others, are scrutinizing urban messages, the technologies that create and disseminate them, their interrelationships, and their far-reaching effects on the lived experience within our urban environments.
The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of the urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as:
• a complex environment of interpersonal interaction,
• a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior; and
• an intricate technological environment.
To foreground communication in the study of urban landscapes is not new. The essence of the city is community, the relationship to communication underscored by the shared root of these words. What is new is the increased urgency for the need to harness the passions and work of all those engaged in communication research and public action.
Urban communication research is interdisciplinary and collaborative with other research and creative disciplines. As such, we invite participation from architects, urban planners, environmental psychologists, geographers, sociologists, political scientists, journalists, and all scholars and practitioners who study, think about, and share our concern for the future of our cities.
The Urban Communication Foundation recognizes the worldwide radical growth of cities along with the changing channels of communication, the shifting designs of urban structures, and the growth of regulation and infrastructures governing the community and social interaction.
Communication is central to understanding the continuing global expansion of the urban landscape and requires the fusion of research that stresses the understanding of dynamic communication patterns, the humane design of public space, thoughtful architectural design, and the creation of regulatory processes both benevolent and realistic.
The mission of The Urban Communication Foundation is to:
1) support through grants research that enhances society’s understanding of urban communication patterns;
2) encourage through conferences and symposia collaboration between scholars, urban planners, and policymakers;
3) promote through publications research strategies and
4) recognize through awards and noteworthy scholarship that encourages and fuses urban practice and study.
The Urban Communication Foundation was founded in 2005 as a (501 (c) 3) organization.
The first gathering of what would become the Urban Communication Foundation was in Boston on October 11-12, 2003. An interdisciplinary group of like-minded scholars, sponsored by the National Communication Association and Emerson College, met to discuss an overarching set of observations with a question framed the meeting:
Cities are inherently places of communication, meeting spaces for interaction and/or observation. The nature of any communication venue is altered by social and technological circumstances. Cities around the globe face a critical time and we wonder whether that realm of crisis and development ought not be a vital concern of communication scholars.
What are the insights and answers that communication research can provide regarding urban issues and problems.
In 2004, at the National Communication Associations Convention, a special urban communication seminar was held. More than 25 NCA members participated. Among them was Professor Gene Burd from the University of Texas, Austin. As a result of that meeting which was centered on the above question, Prof. Burd contributed $1,000,000 towards the establishment of the Urban Communication Foundation as a not-for-profit (501 (c) (3) organization.
Subsequently, three invitational meetings were then held in Washington, Paris, and Rome in 2007 and 2008. A group of international participants sought to define those qualities best describing the communicative city and those communicative characteristics specific to an urban setting. They were also asked to help develop principles or procedures of inquiry.
The foundation initially focused on recognizing quality research on urban communication issues. The first such award established the Jane Jacobs Urban Communication Book Award, named in honor of the great civic activist. In addition, distinguished journalists and critics, whose work advances our understanding of urban issues, public space, and city design are honored through the Gene Burd Urban Journalism Award.
With the cooperation of international, national and regional communication and environmental design associations, a research grant program was also established. These grant initiatives are meant to encourage new and ongoing research.
In the twenty-first century, cities around the world have been altered, impacted upon, and transformed by the exponential growth and impact of communications technology. We seek to support communication research and pedagogy that examines the consequences of change and initiates innovative research on all aspects of the urban landscape.