Michael A. Cohen - Speculating on Change: Four Paradoxes of Our Urban Future

Inaugural Lecture - "Speculating on Change" Fri 16 Oct 2009 6.30PM-8.30PM Kellen Auditorium, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Parsons The New School for Design
66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street, Ground Floor
Admission: $8, free for all students, as well as New School faculty, staff and alumni with valid ID
  • åCalendar
  • ,Map
  • Y Share
  • * 0Vote
Each year, an inaugural lecture launches the Vera List Center's annual theme, defining the intellectual territory that will be explored in public programs throughout the year. The lecturer introduces the theme in the broadest sense, serving as a guide to the range and richness of the topic at hand, and rooting the concept within The New School's intellectual tradition.

This year's programs call for a speculation on notions of change, specifically some of the descriptions, procedures and perceptions associated with change that inform collective action, whether political, scientific, or cultural. The inaugural lecture is delivered by Michael A. Cohen, Director, The Graduate Program of International Affairs at The New School.
    • Michael A. Cohen, Speculating on Change: Four Paradoxes of Our Urban Future, Part One
    • Michael A. Cohen, Speculating on Change: Four Paradoxes of Our Urban Future, Part Two
The current global economic crisis demonstrates the impact on the economic welfare and political stability of both rich and poor countries of accelerating global flows of people, ideas, capital and competition for control over human and natural resources. Cohen discusses cities both as sites of the greatest impacts of global change, but also as sites providing solutions to some of the challenges that result from such change. Four specific paradoxes provide entries to a discussion of cities as both spaces of hope and sites of vulnerability:

The economic paradox that cities are both the sites of income and opportunity and the sites of growing poverty and inequality,
The geographic paradox that cities are quintessentially local and specific to their geographic context, yet they are the sites of intensified impacts of global processes,
The political paradox of growing urban populations that will soon represent the majorities of national populations, but do not receive the political attention they deserve and require, and
The sustainability paradox that cities are sites of pollution that contribute to greenhouse gases, but are also the sites of opportunity for policy reform and sustainable design of the material world.


Michael A. Cohen (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Director of the International Affairs Program. He also works as Advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning of the University of Buenos Aires. Before coming to the New School in 2001, he was a Visiting Fellow of the International Center for Advanced Studies at New York University. From 1972 to 1999, he had a distinguished career at the World Bank. He was responsible for much of the urban policy development of the Bank over that period and, from 1994 to 1998, he served as the Senior Advisor to the Bank's Vice-President for Environmentally Sustainable Development. He has worked in over fifty countries and was heavily involved in the Bank's work on infrastructure, environment, and sustainable development. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Panel on Urban Dynamics. Cohen is the author or editor of several books, including most recently Preparing the Urban Future: Global Pressures and Local Forces (ed. with A. Garland, B. Ruble, and J. Tulchin), The Human Face of the Urban Environment (ed. with I. Serageldin), and Urban Policy and Economic Development: An Agenda for the 1990s. Other recent publications include articles in 25 Years of Urban Development (Amersfoort, The Netherlands, 1998), Cities Fit for People (Kirdar, ed., 1996), The Brookings Review, Journal of the Society for the Study of Traditional Environments, International Social Science Review, Habitat International, and Finance and Development. He is currently completing a study of urban inequality in Buenos Aires. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, The Johns Hopkins University, and the School of Architecture, Design, and Urban Planning of the University of Buenos Aires.

This program has been made possible, in part, by a generous grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Presented on occasion of the Vera List Center's 2009-2010 program theme "Speculating on Change."