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Lecture series explores how cities rebuild after trauma

Professor Lawrence J. Vale and Lecturer Thomas J. Campanella of urban studies and planning delivered the opening lectures Monday night in an 11-session colloquium titled " The Resilient City: Trauma, Recovery and Remembrance."

All lectures in the series, which will conclude on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center, will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Room 10-485. Additional lectures this semester are scheduled for Feb. 25; March 4, 11 and 18; April 8, 22 and 29; and May 6 and 13 (all Mondays). They are sponsored by the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the School of Architecture and Planning, and MIT World.

"The term 'resilient city' carries an implicit finality, but it is always coupled with an ongoing recovery process that, for many people, will never quite end," Vale said in his talk on "Urban Trauma and the Resilient City."

"It seems a mistake to view the resilience of cities in terms of any such search for closure," he said. "Rather, the goal should be productive openness, an ability to structure and confront the contradictory impulses inherent in the contested processes of recovery and remembrance.

"The challenge for planners and designers is to navigate between the extremes of triumphalism and despair. We don't always get over traumatic events, but we do get through them. This, too, is a form of resilience, and it is the spirit of this colloquium."

Campanella, speaking on "Sept. 11 and the City," noted that Mohammed Atta, who supposedly planned and executed the hijackings and mass murders, was trained as an architect, urban planner and engineer.

"He was a man who knew well the power and majesty of cities in history," Campanella said. "He was an urbanist, a person trained to create humane and healthful urban environments. And he was sufficiently committed to preservation and good city design to be angered by the destruction of an historic district in Cairo for the sake of commercial gain."

What transformed the idealistic architect and planner into a ruthless killer remains a mystery. "Some have suggested that Atta's fury was leveled at modernity itself," Campanella said. "But Atta appears to have been deeply conflicted even in this. He rankled at the bulldozing of historic Arab cities to accommodate the automobile, yet sold cars on the side to fund his education at one of Germany's elite technical institutions."

In conclusion, Campanella said, "New York took a blow on the chin, as did, by extension, urban America in general. But it was not a killing blow--not by a long shot. In spite of the shock waves of Sept. 11, and despite whatever lingering disenchantment with cities that many Americans profess, the metropolis is in no danger of dissolving into suburban oblivion.

"No act of war or terrorism, at least in the last 200 years, has ever permanently destroyed a city, here or anywhere else. And it is unlikely that any such act ever will. As urbanists and as humanists, we can rest assured that cities will always be with us--New York and all the rest of them."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 13, 2002.

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