City Talks lecture series turns 10

Culture Events

This semester’s talks on “Politics and The City” in full swing

Legacy Art Gallery. Photo via UVic.ca

On a wet and windy September evening, as people filtered into the Legacy Art Gallery to hear a panel of Victoria’s federal election candidates discuss how they would address issues currently afflicting the provincial capital such as poverty and homelessness, Victoria’s preeminent lecture series, City Talks, turned a decade old.

City Talks is put on by the University of Victoria’s Urban Studies Committee (USC) and over the last 10 years has facilitated panel discussions and lectures on everything from sustainability to street art to theatre to sex. The one commonality among all these talks is that discussions are centered around the impact of these different subjects on urban spaces like Victoria and the public discourse that they allow.

“We try to balance more academic discussions of cities with community interests,” said Reuben Rose-Redwood, an Associate Professor in UVic’s Geography Department as well as co-founder and current chairman of USC. 

In the spring of 2010, several UVic scholars including Jordan Stanger-Ross in the Department of History, Warren Magnusson in the Department of Political Science, and Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly in Public Administration came together with Rose-Redwood to take the first steps toward founding City Talks.

“[We] started talking about the fact that we all have an interest in cities and urbanism, and what we could do about that,” Rose-Redwood said. “It was at that meeting that we said let’s create a committee for Urban Studies at UVic.”

It was from that meeting that City Talks was born. Rose-Redwood has been chair of the lecture series since 2013, when Stanger-Ross stepped down after receiving a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant for a project called “The Landscapes of Injustice.” 

Since becoming the chair, Rose-Redwood has continued the tradition of basing each semester of the lecture series on topical themes and subjects. In 2016, City Talks hosted a series on “The Refugee Crisis and the Sanctuary City” due to the influx of refugees from Syria into Canada, Europe, and the United States which has caused much debate and polarization. 

Rose Redwood also had the chance in 2017 to give his own City Talk series on “The Urban Streetscape as Political Cosmos,” which was followed by a panel, “The Politics of Street Naming in The City of Victoria.” This panel, moderated by Rose-Redwood, included UVic PhD alum (candidate at the time) Sam Grey, Victoria City Councillor Ben Isitt, UVic History department chair John Lutz, and UVic student Lisa Schnitzler.

“It made sense to do it at that time because I had just published a book, The Political Life of Urban Streetscapes a few months prior,” Rose-Redwood said. “[Despite differing perspectives] we try to create an environment of mutual respect and engagement [at City Talks], engagement with ideas that are critical to understanding contemporary issues without trying to be overly confrontational, but rather trying to provide a space for critical and constructive dialogue.”

Who is typically invited to host the lectures? Many factors are considered in the process.

“Obviously we try to have somewhat of a gender balance so it’s not all white men, and [also try] to have a balance of different perspectives in that regard,” said Rose-Redwood. “If certain scholars have just published a book, for instance, and would have something new to say, then that’s also a reason to invite them.”

The events are interdisciplinary and have seen presenters from universities across Canada,the United States, and Europe aacross Canada in the Departments of History, Geography, Anthropology, and Sociology as well as community members, business owners, and local politicians.

With the federal election taking place this fall, the theme for this semester is “Politics and The City.” While the first panel featuring local federal candidates has already come and gone, there will be two more talks this semester which will discuss the impact of and interplay with politics on cities around the world.

The next talk will take place on October 17 and will see historian Arbella Bet-Shlimon from the University of Washington give a lecture on “Ethnicity and Conflict in Iraq’s Oil City: A History of Kirkuk.” The last talk of the semester will take place on November 21 and will feature geographer Jason Hackworth from the University of Toronto discussing “The Politics of Racism and Urban Decline in the American Rust Belt.” Rose-Redwood revealed that both authors had just released books on the subject which allows for new and relevant material to be discussed with the public. Both talks will be held at the Legacy Art Gallery on Yates Street at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about upcoming City Talks, check out their website at http://citytalks.geog.uvic.ca/.