Grinnell College to explore 'Our Urban Future' during symposium from Sept. 5-7

Highlights include architect Mario Gandelsonas and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

Grinnell College students and faculty will explore "Our Urban Future" during a symposium from Sept. 5-7 that will bring a wide array of guest speakers to campus.

Highlights of the symposium will be speeches by renowned New York architect Mario Gandelsonas and by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, now CEO and president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

"Our Urban Future," sponsored by Grinnell's Rosenfield Program in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights, will take place in room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, 1115 Eighth Ave., Grinnell. All events are free and open to the public.

Gandelsonas, a principal of Agrest and Gandelsonas Architects in New York City, first shared his vision of what downtown Des Moines could become nearly 30 years ago. That vision ultimately led to development of the Western Gateway, the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Principal Riverwalk and the revitalization of the East Village — projects that have helped transform Des Moines into a vibrant capital city.

Also a professor of architecture at Princeton University, Gandelsonas will present the first Scholars' Convocation of the fall semester at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, as part of the symposium. He will focus on the proposed "Downtown Des Moines Agricultural Corridor."

A group led by Gandelsonas and Des Moines venture capitalist Jim Cownie has proposed building a string of large greenhouses and vertical farms along the railroad tracks on the south side of downtown Des Moines.

Gandelsonas and Cownie have presented the proposal, which includes illuminating the greenhouses to create a brightly colored river of light, to city and business leaders. The urban farms would showcase Des Moines as a hub of innovative agriculture, producing locally grown food for area farmers' markets, grocery stores and restaurants. The complex also would provide research space for college students and agricultural companies.

Former Iowa Gov. Vilsack, now CEO and president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, also will speak on Thursday, Sept. 7. His address, which will start at 7:30 p.m., is titled "Food as a Political Movement that Unites but Does Not Divide."

Vilsack, who served as governor of Iowa from 1999-2007, was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 2009. He held the post for eight years, advocating investment in rural communities to help open economic opportunities in the post-recession economy while conserving natural resources and ensuring that America’s food supply was protected.

The symposium also will feature:

  • Martin Murray of the University of Michigan, addressing "The Divergent Trajectories of Global Urbanism at the Start of the 21st Century" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5.
  • Margarita Wells of the city of Miami Beach, Florida, discussing "Miami Beach Rising Above: Making Miami Beach's Community and Physical Infrastructure Resilient" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5.
  • Jason Reblando, photographer and author, describing "New Deal Utopias," at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6.
  • Alan Durning of Sightline Institute, stressing "The Power of Small: How Building Small Means Living Large," 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6.
  • Shu-Yang Lin, re:architect at Public Digital Innovation Space, presenting "Democracy from the Future: Taiwan" at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7.  

Co-sponsoring the symposium are the Grinnell College Office of the President, Environmental Studies Concentration, Center for Prairie Studies, Program in Practical Political Education and John Chrystal Fund for Distinguished Foreign Visitors.

Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. Information about parking and accessibility is available on the college website: Accommodation requests may be made to Laureen Van Wyk at 641-269-4720 or vanwyk[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

The college also welcomes the presence of minors at all age-appropriate public events and for informal visits, with the understanding that a parent, legal guardian, or other responsible adult assumes full responsibility for their child's safety and behavior during such visits or events. In these cases, the college expects that an adult responsible for the visiting child takes measures to ensure the child's safety and sees that the child complies with directions of college personnel. Grinnell College is not responsible for supervision of minors on campus.

About Grinnell College

Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at