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Role of the University as World Population Moves to Cities

Ways university-based research can help meet challenges of urbanization

EVANSTON, Ill. --- More than half the world’s population today are urban residents, and the United Nations projects that nearly two thirds will live in cities by 2050.

On Nov. 19, as part of a Nov. 18 to Nov. 20 conference titled “Global Urban Challenges: The Role of Research Universities,” presidents Morton Schapiro of Northwestern University, Robert Easter of the University of Illinois and Robert Zimmer of the University of Chicago will discuss how university research can help meet the challenges that urbanization inevitably will bring.

Hosted by the three Illinois universities and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the conference will bring together thought leaders and experts from universities around the world.

Each day of the conference will take place on a different host university campus, beginning Monday afternoon, Nov. 18, at Norris University Center on Northwestern's Evanston campus. All sessions are free of charge and open to Northwestern faculty, students and staff, who must register with Melissa Guinan at

It is widely agreed that cities are ill prepared to absorb the expected influx of new residents.

“In Chicago and elsewhere, however, city governments and universities already are creating alliances to attract investment and help improve health, education and quality of life,” said Devora Grynspan. Grynspan is director of Northwestern’s Office of International Program Development.

The university cohosts have invited representatives of partner institutions to address the challenges of urbanization and to connect international faculty. Participating Northwestern partners are Tel Aviv University, Stellenbosch University (South Africa), Sciences Po (France), Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (Brazil), Koç University (Turkey), Bocconi University (Italy), ETH Zurich (Switzerland), Indian Institute of Technology, Peking University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Universidad Panamericana (Mexico) and the National University of Singapore.

Key Northwestern faculty planning the conference include David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor at the School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and director of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR); James Rosenbaum, SESP professor of human development and IPR faculty fellow; James Spillane, Olin Professor at SESP and IPR faculty fellow; and Fay Cook, SESP professor and IPR faculty fellow.

Conference funding comes from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; Northern Trust; The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation; and the Spencer Foundation.

Vist the Chicago Council for a list of conference sessions, registration and general public fee information. 

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