The sixth annual Atlanta Studies Symposium took place on April 20, 2018, at Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library, where the first Atlanta Studies Symposium was held back in 2013. The full day of sessions capped by a rousing keynote lecture was the largest symposium in the event’s history. In the coming months, Atlanta Studies will be publishing video recordings of symposium sessions and blog posts and articles building on research presented at the event.
The symposium’s location at a university just recently annexed by the City of Atlanta in a building with a view across the city of the Atlanta skyline dovetailed nicely with this year’s theme of “Atlanta: City + Region.” This confluence of topic and place emerged in sessions throughout the day as illustrated in the program. Sessions on development and urbanization in Gwinnett County, histories of urbanization and sprawl in Atlanta and across the region, housing affordability, and Atlanta’s debated and tenuous “black mecca” status all riffed on the shifting relationships among the City of Atlanta, other municipalities, counties, and the state of Georgia, illuminating how interrogating the relationship between city and region is critical to navigating Atlanta’s future.
Other sessions engaged with the symposium location by examining the role of universities in Atlanta’s development and governance or highlighting collections of Woodruff’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, where much of the symposium took place. Emory architectural historian Christina Crawford was joined by several of her students in a session on Atlanta Interwar Housing, a digital project and course on Atlanta’s role in the international development of public housing architecture in the interwar period, which builds on the papers of Charles Palmer, held in the Rose Library. Georgia State urban geographer Jean-Paul Addie chaired a session that drew together university, planning, and corporate leaders to discuss how urban educational institutions interact with planning and government policies.
This year’s symposium attracted a diverse group of 250 presenters and audience members from across the region and beyond. Attendees included faculty and students from numerous area universities as well as from high schools and sixteen city and state governmental departments and local non-profit organizations. The sixteen institutions of higher education represented included not only those sponsoring the Symposium – Emory University, Georgia State University, and Georgia Institute of Technology – but also universities from surrounding states such as Auburn, Clemson, and the University of South Carolina, as well as institutions much further afield, such as the University of British Columbia and the University of Illinois. A new poster session during lunch foregrounded this wide variety of affiliations and seniority. Posters ranged from an Agnes Scott undergraduate history major’s analysis of how post-Olympic planning undermined Atlanta’s Summerhill neighborhood to an Atlanta Regional Commission staff member’s analysis of physical activity’s association with student success at Georgia high schools. Likewise, a session on the Green Card Youth Voices project at Cross Keys High School featured local high school students as presenters, in dialogue with scholars, discussing a forthcoming book on their immigration experiences. Sessions featuring presenters from the non-profit and advocacy sector included talks on the policy approaches to address the region’s mounting affordable housing crisis.
The symposium concluded with the Cliff Kuhn Memorial Keynote Lecture, presented this year by Georgia Tech urban design scholar Ellen Dunham-Jones. Before Dunham-Jones’s lecture, Georgia state senator Nan Orrock recognized GSU oral historian Cliff Kuhn’s legacy by presenting a citation from the legislature honoring him. In her lecture, “Retrofitting Suburban Atlanta in Response to Changing Demographics and Desires,” Dunham-Jones then sketched out how metro Atlanta partners are redeveloping defunct and underutilized suburban malls, strip malls, and parking lots to meet an influx of diverse residents heading for the first ring of suburbs from the urban core. The lecture demonstrated that models for effective and sustainable development across a sprawling metropolitan region do exist, even as a growing Atlanta faces a significant challenges around governance, sustainability, and equity in development across the region.
The eventful day of engaging panels concluded with a reception in the Rose Library’s Woodruff Commons with its view of the Atlanta’s skyline, a striking perspective that shaped conversations about the geographies, ecologies, policies, and cultural formations that impact the region’s future. Follow this conversation in the months to come as Atlanta Studies publishes video recordings, blog posts, and articles drawing on symposium presentations and keep an eye out for news on next year’s symposium so you can participate in this growing forum for discussing our region’s past and future.