A Communications Theory of Urban Growth

By Richard L. Meier; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE CIVIC BOND

What justification is there for a metropolis to exist at all? Why doesn't humanity distribute itself over the earth's surface roughly in proportion to the concentration of natural resources which give it succor? Why should people congregate in a manmade desert and disperse to abodes on its fringes in daily cycles? What forces keep a metropolis from diffusing into the countryside where the population pressures are felt less severely? Why should people agglomerate into larger and larger urban complexes whose outlying strands are beginning to join up with their neighbors, thus presaging vast blobs and webs of urbanism covering the maps of the 1970's, 1980's and beyond?

Such questions have been asked before. They are almost always, however, raised in a metaphorical sense, more as paradoxes than as problems worthy of investigation. They are framed as "straw men" by the proponents of answers of one kind or another. Let us instead take the questions seriously. Just as the physicists have explored the nature of the forces that hold particles together in the atomic nuclei despite the tremendous repulsions built up by the proximity of like charges, the chemists have asked the same questions about the bonds that tie atoms together into molecules and crystals, and the physiologists have investigated the properties of protoplasm that are responsible for maintaining the cell as a separate entity, the cohesive forces that hold people together in a city are subject to study and analysis. Analogous questions have led to discoveries in these other fields that have been highly illuminating, but for cities they have thus far led to rather feeble explanations. The reason, perhaps, lies in the way the social sciences have crystallized into academic disciplines. The economists, sociologists, political scientists and geographers all have a little bit to say on the matter, but their contributions don't jibe. The sum of four lines of argument is not a whole picture; it remains just four disparate lines of argument. If social anthropology and human ecology are added to the list, no improvement in integration is obtained--two more lines do not yield a finished blueprint.

In any search for a satisfying explanation of human clustering of the kind that has resulted in metropolitan aggregations, the properties of a satisfactory theory or representation must be taken into account. 1 Normally persons concerned with the understanding of urban problems accept causal and teleological explanations for collective human behavior. An acceptable causal theory must demonstrate a plausible linkage between events--such as the adoption of certain innovations by a community and its subsequent growth into a city--which also have a bearing upon situations expected to be encountered somewhere else in the world. A teleological explanation for the construction and organization of cities would imply that they were determined by some basic collective goal. Thus a new nation may have to create a proper capital,

____________________
1
The argument touches at this point upon philosophies of science. It recognizes that a body of experienced investigators has evolved procedures for maximizing the reproducibility of observations and modes of interpretation which minimize the appearance of paradoxes. No single philosophical scheme has been settled upon, nor need it be at this stage because none is yet at the point of making fine distinctions. Cf. J. R. Kantor, The Logic of Modern Science, Bloomington, Indiana: Principia Press, 1953, Pts. I and IV; R. B. Braithwaite, Scientific Explanation, London: Cambridge University Press, 1953, Chs. 1-3. For insights well ahead of his period see K. J. W. Craik, The Nature of Explanation, Cambridge University Press, London, 1943.

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