North­eastern Uni­ver­sity scholars, vis­iting pro­fes­sors, and com­mu­nity leaders con­vened on Friday to examine the chal­lenges facing urban com­mu­ni­ties, iden­tify inno­v­a­tive solu­tions, and shed light on the role that gov­ern­ment agen­cies and uni­ver­si­ties can play.

The con­fer­ence, “Twenty-​​First Cen­tury Chain of Change,” wasco-​​sponsored by the John D. O’Bryant African-​​American Insti­tuteand the Human­i­ties Center, as part of Northeastern’s ongoing mis­sion to trans­form the ways that uni­ver­si­ties and com­mu­ni­ties col­lab­o­rate to solve prob­lems and develop oppor­tu­ni­ties. The event was in the spirit of Northeastern’s Stony Brook Ini­tia­tive, which facil­i­tates com­mu­nity part­ner­ships in Boston.

The title “Chain of Change” ref­er­ences a book written by Mel King — a former state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and long­time com­mu­nity activist — that chron­i­cles the devel­op­ment of Boston’s African-​​American com­mu­nity from the 1950s through the 1970s.

Richard O’Bryant, director of the insti­tute and a polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor at North­eastern, said the con­fer­ence helped iden­tify how aca­d­e­mics and com­mu­nity mem­bers view these issues, and the goal is now to find the best way to link them together.

We really need to work at coming closer together on these solu­tions, and the dia­logue we had today was very rich and very inter­esting,” O’Bryant said. The next step, he added, is to com­pile a list of the key issues high­lighted at the meeting, to be the focus of poten­tial follow-​​up sessions.

Pan­elists dis­cussed a wide range of topics including job and housing avail­ability, empow­ering neigh­bor­hoods, and the effects of health dis­par­i­ties in urban neigh­bor­hoods. During more than five hours of dis­cus­sion, they offered a variety of solu­tions, including height­ened sup­port for cul­tural cen­ters, small busi­nesses and non­profits, and an increased com­mu­nity voice in neigh­bor­hood devel­op­ment. Ronald Marlow, assis­tant sec­re­tary for access and oppor­tu­nity under Gov. Deval Patrick, chal­lenged people to iden­tify a role they can each play in those solutions.

Pro­fessor Joan Fitzgerald, director of the Law, Policy & Society pro­gram at North­eastern, high­lighted her new book, “Emerald Cities: Urban Sus­tain­ability and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment.” The book iden­ti­fies cities’ efforts to pro­mote sus­tain­ability and create link­ages to eco­nomic devel­op­ment and social and envi­ron­mental justice.

The con­fer­ence also exam­ined urban engage­ment on a national level and the prospects for change under Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Thomas Vicino, an assis­tant polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor at North­eastern, sug­gested the White House hasn’t had a strong urban policy in three decades. But he said there are indi­ca­tions one is forming under Pres­i­dent Obama, noting that a director of urban affairs has been named and the U.S. Census cur­rently underway could help in deter­mining areas of urban investment.

There is a window of oppor­tu­nity here, and there might be a window for change, and I think it’s going to be very dif­fi­cult to do but it’s an impor­tant step for the future in terms of trying to move for­ward,” Vicino said.

Michael Lake, exec­u­tive director of the World Class Cities Part­ner­ship at Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, said uni­ver­si­ties such as North­eastern should be a “strong anchor” in their communities.

As we see busi­nesses and people going more and more mobile,” Lake said, “uni­ver­si­ties are a stable asset for the community.”