Urban Affairs Association conference review

While media and urban studies have been increasingly entwined in recent years, their major disciplinary conferences, SCMS and UAA, have been less so. In this edition of Counterparts, Josh Gleich explores his experiences as a media scholar attending the Urban Affairs Association Conference.

The Annual Urban Affairs Association Conference is an ambitiously interdisciplinary experience, particularly for media scholars. The annual call for papers lists 26 different categories, ranging from Disaster Planning and Nonprofit Human Services to Urban Theory and Urban Design. Categories of particular interest to media scholars include Arts; Culture in Urban Contexts; Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Diversity; and Urban Communication (which encompasses the subfields of Urban Media Roles, Urban Journalism, and Social Media/Technology in Urban Life). While the breadth of interests among the scholars, urban planners, advocates, and non-profit directors who comprise the 700-plus members of the Urban Affairs Association may appear daunting, this is actually the primary advantage of the conference. It’s a place to discover common intellectual ground with scholars in other disciplines as well as bridge the gap between research and community action within urban settings.

For the 2014 conference, I submitted a paper via open call and presented on a panel titled “Culture in Cities: Planning, Promotion, Film, Fashion, and TV.” This gave me an opportunity to talk about the aesthetic depiction of San Francisco on television alongside a panelist involved with her local film production office in Cleveland, where she studied and advocated for the economic impact of local film production incentives. Throughout the weekend, the conference provided frequent opportunities to engage with researchers working on similar urban topics from remarkably different perspectives. The organizers did a wonderful job of facilitating such interactions, not only through the diversity of panels but also through an emphasis on social gatherings, such as happy hours and luncheons included as part of the conference registration fee.

The drawback of these lovely events is the rising cost of registration. This year’s conference rate is $295 for student non-members and $480 for all others. (One can save $10-$20 by becoming a member.) Another difficulty is the timing: last year the conference coincided with the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference (SCMS). Fortunately, this year’s conference in San Diego (March 16-19) does not conflict with SCMS, although it will certainly make for a busy month for those deciding to attend both. For scholars hoping to connect to the broader interdisciplinarity of urban studies, I really cannot think of a better venue to encounter like-minded scholars with different veins of thought. For such a widely focused conference, the individual sessions and social events actually created a surprisingly intimate environment at the San Francisco conference.

I was encouraged by what a welcoming and stimulating environment it proved to be. You would be hard-pressed not to come away from the conference with new ideas for research, collaboration, and publication. Furthermore, this is a fantastic venue to build new partnerships and audiences for our own urban media scholarship, which has a clear place at the conference but remains largely underrepresented. In addition to specifics about the 2016 conference, the website also houses an expansive archive of past conference programs, offering a comprehensive view of the organization and conference, without a paywall.

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