A Communications Theory of Urban Growth

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

CHAPTER VI
SOCIO-CULTURAL GROWTH

Suppose a city were to decide collectively that the general state of its culture should be advanced. By this it is meant, speaking realistically, that the leading citizens desire that the city be more urbane, and the remainder are not disposed to object. What policies would such a city employ? What institutions would it foster? What measures should it use to demonstrate how far it has advanced in this direction? What might the experts--primarily urban planners--recommend?

We know from recent experience that if the city's name happens to be Stratford, it will establish a Shakespearean or repertory theater aimed at attracting tourists and would-be sophisticates in the region. Others that can find historical antecedents will develop museums, pageants, and historical societies. Still others choose science as the touchstone and will get the Chamber of Commerce to promote laboratories instead of factories for its choice industrial sites. Many will range widely for a superintendent of schools who in turn is able to attract teachers with broader horizons than most. Prestige architects are sought for public buildings, and growing local enterprises are encouraged to follow suit. Fashions in high culture change from time to time, so that a jazz festival is now ranked almost on the same plane as chamber music or a regional art display, but a flower exhibition or horse show no longer rates highly. None of these activities detracts from cultural advancement, but how much do they add?

Several hints and a warning may be drawn from the foregoing chapters. They dispose of the numbers of theaters, museums, galleries, orchestras, operas, etc., as a superficial indicator since these institutions are mainly an accident of history. An increase in their number signifies increased opportunity for urbane pursuits, but it says nothing about the response of the population to them. It has been argued that the fraction of time spent in public life offers one significant basis for determining progress toward a truly urbane social environment, and that the changing character of activities upon which this time is spent should be a still better indicator. The number of transactions carried on in public per participant in the urban scene be he citizen, sojourner, tourist, or visitor, if defined to include those effected outside of business affairs, should be an excellent index of the volume of socio-cultural activity, but it says very little about variety, level of taste, or depth of penetration. The aforementioned warning applies only when transaction frequency is raised many fold, and the human communication channels become jammed with repetitive and trivial messages. Therefore, transaction frequency can have validity over a limited range of development. The most highly urbanized portions of the American society are already approaching the upper boundary of that range.

One would suppose that an increase in the amount of human time in the city expended in the interests of larger publics would be a good indicator of urbanity. An increasing proportion of time spent in nation-serving and world-serving activities, as against those associated with neighborhood and parochial activities, should be expected to advance the culture of the city. It is very easy, however, to slip over from the quality of urbanity to that of cosmopolitanism. The latter is an extreme that can exist when

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