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UIC UPPSA Students Hold Successful Symposium 1/25

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

conference room with low lighting, powepoint presentation on far side of room on stage with seated panelists and person at podium. in the foreground is a small poster for the symposium.

The Urban Planning and Policy Student Association at UIC hosted yet another successful Urban Innovation Symposium! The event was on its 9th year and the theme went back to its roots by focusing on innovative techniques that planners, academics, and policymakers can utilize for creating more equitable urban areas. Divided into afternoon and evening sessions, the event covered an array of subjects affecting urban planning using panel styles, deep dive discussions and keynote speakers. The afternoon session took place at the University of Illinois Chicago campus and began with an inspiring keynote speech by Dr. Amara Enyia, Director, Austin Chamber of Commerce. Her speech distinguished between positive and negative innovations that cities can put to use as a form of governance, which is an important lesson for planners. For example, leaders can create innovative techniques to collect funds (taxes), but that can disproportionately affect certain groups.

The day’s first panel was a robust discussion on land use and affordable housing. It featured a diverse group of individuals – Alden Loury of WBEZ, Angela Larsen of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, James Harris of the Zoning Board of Appeals of Cook County, and Professor Philip Ashton of UIC as moderator. The deep dive featured Sydney VanKuren, Farr Associates, who discussed environmental sustainability at the neighborhood level and sustainable urbanism projects.

The day’s second panel was a discussion on public art and gentrification. It focused on the role of public art as a community place maker instead of as a tool for gentrification. The panelists included Tonika Johnson, a visual artist and photographer from Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood, Chris Devins of the Chris Devins Creative, and Andy Bellomo, a visual artist, public mural artist, teacher and performer living and working in Chicago’s LGBTQ community. The panel was moderated by Professor Janet Smith of UIC. Concurrently, the deep dive that was led by Jim Merrell of Active Transportation Alliance, which centered on equal access to transportation and the role of transportation in creating sustainable communities and cities that provide greater access to mobility, health and economic activity.

The evening session was held at the National Museum of Mexican Art for the second year, and the winter storm did not stop the panelists or participants!

The first panel looked at cooperatives as a sustainable economic development plan for urban areas. While co-ops as a concept are in the beginning stages in Chicago, they have the potential to assist marginalized neighborhoods as an alternative form of economic sustainability. The moderator for this panel was Stacy Sutton, a Professor of Urban Planning at UIC. Panelists included Greg Berlowitz of the Chicago Market, John McMicken of the Cleveland-based Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, and Janette Robles of New Era Windows.

The final panel of the Symposium concentrated on environmental justice. Panelists were selected as a cross section of different voices across the Chicago area who are leaders in mobilizing their communities in confronting environmental injustice. The moderator for this panel is Eric Boria, Masters of Urban Planning and Policy Graduate from UIC and panelist Kim Wasserman, Executive Director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Naomi Davis, founder and president of Blacks in Green and Neringa Valkiunas of Stop Sterigenics. The panel discussed how movements concerning pollution, resiliency, sustainability, and public health intersect with environmental and social justice on a local level. Additionally the panel spoke about how resources and environmental policy are often unevenly applied along racial and economic lines, and how that language used to discuss environmental issues has a great impact on how different communities are affected.

The evening was capped off with a keynote that also served as a lecture and performance, which was co-produced by Dr. H. Peter Steeve, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Humanities Center at DePaul University, and Danielle Meijer, M.S., an adjunct instructor of Philosophy at DePaul University and the founder and Artistic Director of Aleph World Fusion Dance. The performance was titled “Dark Mountain, Dark City”. Dr. Steeve’s thesis centered on the most fundamental question we ask concerning urban innovation – in general, and even under the best of circumstances, are cities capable of being morally sound institutions? The lecture, combined with a live dance performance, allowed attendees to think beyond the discourse of “sustainability”, and asked if cities are necessarily tied to colonialism, and thus racism and exploitation.

The Symposium had hundreds of attendees who overcame chilly and snowy weather to benefit from terrific panelists and speakers, topics and moderators. While the 9th Annual Urban Innovation Symposium is now history, we look forward to seeing everyone next year so we can continue to this important public discourse!

For more information and to see more photos from the event, please visit

(photos by Alvaro Villagran, via the UPPSA Facebook public group)

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