NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Rutgers Department of Art History’s Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies program will be hosting a conference called “Shifting Cities: Urban Heritage in the 21st Century” from Thursday, November 12 through Sunday, November 14.

All events are free and open to the public, although pre-registration is required.

You can register for the conference online at

Dr. Catherine Boland Erkkila, a co-organizer of “Shifting Cities,” wrote, “As populations grow and migrate and our world becomes increasingly urbanized, socio-economic change, environmental stresses, and the difficulties of continuing traditional forms of use threaten the sense of place and identities in urban communities.”

This is something that can be seen in New Brunswick and other nearby cities, as well as around the world. 

Thus, the conference will explore this issue and how it affects places from New Brunswick and Camden to Aleppo and St. Croix.

According to the conference’s website, Shifting Citieswill bring heritage practitioners together with scholars and organizations engaged in what would not traditionally be considered ‘heritage’ or ‘conservation’ work, such as social services and public health. Examining this work will be crucial to pointing us forward to new directions and approaches towards the conservation of urban heritage.”

The hope is that this interdisciplinary approach will yield constructive results.

The conference features many esteemed speakers, among them:

  • Ishmael Beah, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and bestselling author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
  • Dr. Luther Castillo, founder of First Popular Garifuna Hospital of Honduras (the hospital is the subject of a popular documentary, Revolutionary Medicine, that will be screened at the conference)
  • Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director, Sustainable Urbanism International GSAPP at Columbia University and UNESCO Chair Professor in Culture, Habitat, and Sustainable Development
  • Tim Raphael, Founding Director, Center for Migration and Global City, Rutgers University
  • Omar Nagati, Architect and Urban Planner, Cairo
  • Andrea Parker, Executive Director, Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Brooklyn

A full program can be found on the conference website.

According to Dr. Boland Erkkila, one of the organizers of the conference, “One of the goals of this conference is to move the discussion of urban heritage conservation not only beyond the bounds of the cultural heritage field, but also beyond the walls of academia.”

To that end, Dr. Boland Erkkila and Dr. Anita Bakshi, conference co-organizer, offered a Rutgers class called Shifting Cities: Cultural Heritage and Community Organizing Workshop.

Students in the course worked with area organizations like Elijah’s Promise, Corazon Kitchen, and Unity Square, and in Perth Amboy, specifically La Casa de la Educacion y Cultura Latina.

The conference also aims to reach beyond just the Rutgers community.

“We hope that area residents will attend the conference and contribute their voices in the discussion about the changes that they’ve experienced,” says Dr. Boland Erkkila. “When we talk about urban heritage, we are not just talking about the physical fabric of the city but also, and more importantly, about the people who create and contribute to that heritage. Any attempts at preservation must address the needs and desires of the local community.” 

The conference is sponsored by: 

  • Rutgers-New Brunswick
  • The United States National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites
  • The World Monument Fund
  • Preservation New Jersey
  • The Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights
  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
  • The Woodrow Wilson School of Public & Intenrational Affairs at Princeton University.

The sponsoring departments in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences are:

  • The Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights
  • The Department of Political Science
  • The Community Leadership Center
  • The Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
  • Rutgers Newark’s Center for Migration and the Global City.