Anne Williamson loves her new job. But she wouldn’t mind tweaking her job title a bit.
Williamson is the new Victor and Caroline Schutte/Missouri Professor of Urban Affairs in the Department of Public Affairs at the Bloch School. There’s nothing wrong with that title, per se; it just doesn’t tell the full story.
She’d like to see the term “metropolitan affairs” replace “urban affairs.”
“It’s not just about the urban core,” she said. Professionals in her field today, she said, are less concerned with artificial lines drawn on maps, and more concerned with questions such as “How do we create healthy, prosperous communities?” and, “How do we work for shared prosperity and a shared high quality of life across a region?”
She feels strongly that she’s in the right place to pursue the answers.
Williamson comes to UMKC from the University of Alabama, and was drawn at first by the opportunity her new position provides to also serve as the Director of the L. P. Cookingham Institute for Public Affairs at Bloch.
“I had a job I loved at the University of Alabama. I wasn’t actively looking, but I saw a description of the job and I thought, that sounds like me,” she recalled.
What sealed the deal, however, was Bloch’s solid relationships with the public affairs community throughout the region. During the interview process, she had the opportunity to meet and speak with city managers, nonprofit leaders and other professionals in the field who were engaged with the Bloch School and the Cookingham Institute.
In other universities where she had worked, there was much less of a tradition of people working in the field to look to universities for technical assistance and partnership. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia (Ph.D.), the University of Florida (M.A.) and Middle Tennessee State University (B.B.A.). Williamson previously served on the faculties of the University of Texas-San Antonio and the University of Florida.
“It’s wonderful how welcoming the professional community is to having relationships with people at the university in Kansas City,” Williamson said. “It was an opportunity too good to pass up.”
Another important factor was UMKC’s welcoming attitude toward interdisciplinary studies, given that in her mind, urban affairs is “explicitly interdisciplinary” because the field is concerned with “anything that affects the quality of life in a region.” For example, she is looking forward to working with Prof. Jacob Wagner in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design on the new Center for Neighborhoods, as well as Bloch’s Prof. Jim DeLisle of the Lewis Center for Real Estate, and Prof. Allan Katz and his civic institute, American Public Square.
Williamson brings a blend of public- and private-sector management experience to her teaching, research and service. An expert in housing policy, community development, citizen participation, public budgeting and other urban issues, Williamson has published in journals such as Urban Affairs Review and Social Science Quarterly, among others. She has also led public service outreach projects resulting in more than 20 externally funded projects and provided expert testimony on housing discrimination in U.S. Federal Court.
Her major goal is to redefine the role of the Cookingham Institute, aligning it more closely to UMKC’s community service mission, by listening to the community “to find out how we can best serve.” She has begun the process by reaching out to public service and not-for-profit professionals for ideas and insights on how the institute can help them achieve their goals.
Three potential concepts she is focusing on now are:
- Becoming a facilitator for greater regional collaboration and cooperation among governments and organizations
- Providing technical assistance to smaller cities and towns in areas such as human resource management and coping with growth challenges
- Becoming a resource for housing policy, particularly in helping local governments meet challenges presented by new federal policies focused on breaking down traditional patterns of housing segregation
Williamson knows the importance of housing and community not just from academic study, but from life experience. These experiences “led me to understand the importance of where people live,” she said. “Because of the challenges that I lived through, I believe I am more ready to hear what other people have to say about their own living challenges.
“Kansas City is an easy place to feel at home,” said the person for whom home and housing are key values. “The Kansas City region literally has something for everyone.”