Professor of History
Director, Urban Studies Program
My journey to concerns about sustainability, particularly urban sustainability, is more circuitous than most. As a historian, I have long studied cities. My first book was on Moscow in the first post-revolutionary decade. It focused on the interdependence of urban infrastructures, the built environment, public health, and work on working people in the midst of crisis and efforts to restore urban life. With the collapse of the USSR, I helped to head the international effort to make accessible to the world the holdings of Soviet-era archives, which in turn led me to write on various topics based on materials from those formerly secret archives. While that allure deflected my urban focus (although living in Moscow for much of the 1990s drove home how fragile urban life is), I consistently taught courses on cities and the effects that political and cultural ideologies have on urbanites’ lives. Most recently, I have taught about the history and evolution of urban design and the interactions between the built environment and those who live in it. As the Director of Urban Studies, I have focused much energy on enriching our International Urbanism concentration (so that more Pitt students get to live and study abroad) and finding ways to make it possible for our majors to immerse themselves in urban life in ways that allow them to understand the daily realities of those who live in neighborhoods. I prize immersion learning. We tell our majors that understanding cities and urban neighborhoods requires appreciating the myriad realities that affect people’s lives in their neighborhoods: housing and the built environment, economic realities, safety, public transport, public health, environmental realities, and economic and racial segregation. The best academic training can only prepare students so much; the lived experience is where theory meets reality. My hope is that my service on the Sustainability Steering Committee, with its inter-disciplinary members, can help to make such experiential learning possible for Pitt students.