Dynamics of Global Mobility

The world recently witnessed a major global milestone: more than half of the world’s population is now living in cities.  Most population projections for urban areas suggest that the number of people living in cities and their metropolitan regions will continue grow exponentially.  According to the World Health Organization (2013):

The global urban population is expected to grow roughly 1.5% per year, between 2025-2030. By the middle of the 21st century, the urban population will almost double, increasing from approximately 3.4 billion in 2009 to 6.4 billion in 2050.

This exponential urban growth is particularly visible in cities in the developing world and in other global cities, which is leading to the rise of mega-cities: cities with a population in excess of ten million people.  Now more than ever, people, goods, and capital move across borders, contributing to complex and continuously changing urban environments.  This massive growth in cities creates both challenges and opportunities for metropolitan life.  GCI is on the forefront of this research, contributing to research and policy solutions keep up with the ever-changing dynamics of global mobility.

GCI regularly receives international guests coming to Chicago to learn about urban studies, planning, and policy. In the 2012-2013 academic year, GCI received international guests from Chile, Russia, South Korea, and United Kingdom.  The GCI sponsored conference on Participatory Budgeting drew participation from over 30 countries. In the 2013-2014, we hosted international visitors from Turkey, Poland, Russia, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Mexico.

Learning & Exchange

Cities Across the Globe: People and Places Across Borders Symposia

In October 2013, Great Cities Institute launched its research cluster, Dynamics of Global Mobility, with an interdisciplinary symposium of UIC and international scholars, entitled, Cities Across the Globe. Spatial planning, public space, urban landscapes, economic restructuring, displacement and mobility, everyday insurgencies, youth engagement, safety and security, and the politics of neoliberalism were some of the topics discussed in a roundtable format for the first-annual symposium.  The symposium served as the jump off for a GCI research group of UIC, national, and international scholars that are focusing on international cities, providing a space for inter-disciplinary dialogue on challenges and successes on a global scale. This GCI Working Group will result in a series of publications. Additional Cities across the Globe symposia will be held on an annual basis.

This event launched a GCI Working Group that will culminate in a series of publications. For information on the participants, view the 2013 symposium program.

In April 2015, the second-annual symposium took place. The symposium was keynoted by ministry officials from the Republic of Ecuador, and again invited distinguished scholars from around the globe in a day of roundtable discussion. Topics ranged from welfare assemblage in the U.K., and disassemblage of cultures in Russia, to analysis of revolution in Egypt, and dynamics of the built-form in the American Southwest and China. For information on the second-annual symposium participants, view the 2015 symposium program.

To check out videos from the 2013 and 2015 symposia, visit the Cities Across the Globe media page.

Current Dynamics of Global Mobility Research Cluster Projects

Ending Violence against Arab Women: Transnational Approaches across Four Cities

GCI Faculty Scholar Nadine Naber continues work on her book, Ending Violence against Arab Women: Transnational Approaches across Four Cities. Overall, her work illustrates that state violence (poverty and militarism) are themselves forms of gender violence and that state violence and individualized forms of violence magnify each other. The contributions based on her work are more urgent than ever before since gender violence is on the rise in the Arab region. Moreover, Arab women living in major U.S. cities such as Detroit and Chicago have virtually no resources for responding to the problem of gender violence. Dr. Naber’s contributions will assist those developing strategies for ending violence that are actually relevant to the complex realities of Arab women’s lives.

New African Diaspora in Chicago: Memories, Maps, and Communities

GCI Faculty Scholar Lynette Jackson’s project, “New African Diaspora in Chicago: Memories, Maps, and Communities,” has two major objectives. The first is to respond to the paucity of detailed and in-depth studies on Chicago’s growing African immigrant and refugee communities, specifically those coming from the following three regions of the African continent: Northeastern Africa (Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia), Mano River States (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) and Great Lake Region (Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.) The second is to interrogate the way in which the protean term African diaspora is deployed, particularly in the media and by various non-governmental, national and multilateral organizations.

Chicago Youth in the Survival Sex Economy: Sexualities, Poverty, Race, and the Law

GCI Faculty Scholar Laurie Schaffner is taking a closer look at underlying assumptions about youth, sex, mortality, and the law. She is analyzing 250 qualitative field interviews with self-identified young people who had ever traded sex for money or survival needs in the streets of Chicago during the time period 2011 to 2013 as a part of a national seven-city study of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice. Through this, she intends to decipher popular vocabulary as we seek solutions to the problem of poor youth exchanging sex in the streets, clubs, strolls, and cars in Chicago. Her research captures a rich sociological view of an issue that affects millions of families and communities around the world, across the nation, and here in Chicago.

Trans-Urban Imaginaries of Transport:

Urban Labor and the Taxi Trade in Mumbai and Manila/Singapore Style

GCI Faculty Scholar Tarini Bedi, assistant professor of Anthropology, brings the social into transport research.  Her research explores the social, cultural, and economic life of transport through the networks of those who drive for a living in the transport and motoring trades, specifically in the taxi-trade. While taxis themselves move consumers, bodies, capital and information, it is the taxi driver who negotiates the changing spheres of regulation, state force, labor rights, technology, capital, and the spatial and geographic transformations that accompany globalization.

Bedi is currently conducting research and analysis for a book manuscript tentatively entitled Everyday Technologies of the Urban: The Cultural Life of Motoring. The research locates itself within intellectual debates in economic anthropology and sociology, comparative urban studies, and the interdisciplinary field of mobilities that has emerged out of cultural geography. It addresses these questions through a multi-sited, trans-urban, trans-Asian study of the lives of hereditary taxi-drivers in three cities: Mumbai, Manila and Singapore. The project seeks to understand how taxi-drivers in the model city (Singapore) and the two modeled cities (Mumbai and Manila) respond to, adapt to, and shape the changes to their industry. It seeks to develop and contribute to the understanding of comparative Asian urbanism, transformations of labor structures in Asian contexts of globalization, and the comparative study of the social networks of labor that surround transport infrastructures. This project seeks to explore the convergences, flows, distinctions, and frictions that present themselves in the efforts to corporatize the taxi trade in these three cities.

Walled Cities

Over the last twenty years, the landscapes of cities throughout the world have been transformed by the construction of walled enclosures. What explains the proliferation of these 21st century separation walls?  GCI Faculty Scholar Andy Clarno, assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies, attempts to answer this question through an analysis of walled enclosures in Johannesburg and Jerusalem.  In Johannesburg, the South African elite surround their homes with brick walls and electric fences and put gates around their neighborhoods.  Meanwhile, the State of Israel is building a series of walls and fences to prevent Palestinians from the West Bank from entering Jerusalem.  What explains the different forms that these enclosures take?  To carry out this research, Clarno brings together the tools of comparative urban ethnography and comparative historical sociology.  His research focuses on: the relationship between neoliberal restructuring and the political transitions in each state, the growth of marginalized populations, the politics of security, and the production of walled enclosures.

Asia and China Research Program

GCI established the Asia and China Research Program in 2007, led by Professor Tingwei Zhang, Urban Planning and Policy program, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. The Program was initiated with an agreement between GCI and Guangxi Institute of Architectural Design and Research (GIADR), Guangxi Province in China.

The agreement provides funding for research and exchange between GCI and GIADR, around issues of importance to Southeast Asian countries, especially China. Collaborative research will be focused on economic, political, environmental, urban planning, and architectural issues, as they provide opportunities for exchange of ideas that mutually benefit both universities.

With the extension of the 2009 agreement between GCI-ACRG and Guangxi Hualan Planning and Development Consulting Group, a new project has started in February 2014 on the comparative study of economic transition and spatial reorganization in the city of Nanning, China and Chicago. The project intends to explore strategies employed by the municipal governments of the two cities in the globalization ear.

Additional funding is provided by the Chinese partner. Visiting scholars from Nanning will participate in the research under the guidance of Professor Tingwei Zhang.


GCI is collaborating with the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy to harness the multi-faceted research at UIC on topics of immigration, displacement, and the formation of diaspora communities. GCI is also building a collaborative project on immigration with the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR).