Presenting at the Association of American Geographers annual conference

Dr Mary Gearey, Senior Research Fellow from the School of Environment and Technology reflects on her latest conference presentation and participation at AAG Washington 2019

There seemed to be a problem on the streets of Washington DC when I arrived last week at the beginning of April. Dotted along the streets, scores of lonely, abandoned scooters, harshly left propped against streetlights, blossoming cherry trees, shop doorways.

Who would care for these miscreant mobile technologies? Luckily with 9000 physical and human geographers in town for the annual Association of American Geographers (AAG) meeting help was on hand with both theoretical and applied solutions. As it turned out, these smart scooters are a city wide endeavour to get both local residents, and tourists, out of their cars and buses to make the most of Washington’s relatively flat terrain. Sited in the valley of the Potomac river, central Washington’s topography is ideal for running, walking, cycling and scooting around – and many people make the most of the almost three mile walk between the iconic Capitol building and Lincoln Memorial, via the Washington Monument, to do just that.

Easy access extends to the civic amenities in Washington too. The Smithsonian Institution is a collection of several vast museums and art galleries, all free for public use: well, as long as there isn’t another US federal government shutdown as there was earlier in December 2018/January 2019 when all municipal buildings were closed due to President Trump’s suspension of funding legislation. The Smithsonian collection enables everyone to freely access a wealth of historic artefacts and cultural items of national importance. As a result this area of central Washington is humming with visitors from all countries and all parts of the USA. Visiting America’s capital seems to be an important life event for all junior high school children – and the streets are teeming with excited youngsters enjoying the somewhat Brutalist architecture of the Smithsonian collective.

So Washington was the perfect place to hold the AAG, the conference was last hosted by the city in 2010, with something to delight all the geographers present. This year’s rather subdued conference grappled with issues concerning economic and climate precarity and the damaging political-ecological impacts of agro-mining industrialisation, connective migration and social exclusion patterns; with Trump’s wall building programme casting a long shadow across the continent.

Amidst the reflective moments there were opportunities to connect with old associates, meet new potential colleagues and learn about emerging and valuable research; including that from the University of Brighton itself, where both myself and my SET colleague Dr Leila Dawney were presenting our empirical research findings. As my WetlandLIFE (www.wetlandlife.com) projects enters its final phase it’s been a privilege to share outcomes with global geographers at such a prestigious event as AAG. Though I never did muster the courage to ride a scooter with the downtown Washington traffic…maybe next time!

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