A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space

A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space

A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space

A World of Strangers: Order and Action in Urban Public Space

Excerpt

This is a book about cities—or, more precisely, about one aspect of what it is like to live in cities. Writing about cities and about the ways people live in them is a controversial occupation these days. Perhaps it always was. In any case, whenever one is nervy enough to write with presumed sociological detachment on a controversial topic, one owes to one's readers some honesty about hidden axes that might be grinding away. Thus:

I am an unashamed cityphile. I would prefer to live in a city, despite the dirt, than in a rural paradise or honeysuckled small town. I share the concern of many of my contemporaries over the deteriorating physical environment, over the insane population increase, over the destruction of the earth's life support system. I share with them some of their critiques of industrial society, of technology run wild, of sprawling suburbanization. But I do not share the antiurban sentiment which is increasingly a part of these concerns and critiques. I was reared in a small town in a wilderness area and have no illusions about the inevitably idyllic and utopian character of such settlements. The small town and the rural countryside may be sites of leisure, of contentment, of peace. They can also be sites of parochialism, of bigotry, of spiritual narrowness. The city may be harsh, but it is exciting. It may be cruel, but it is tolerant. It may be indifferent, but it is a blessed indifference. In sum, I share the Aristotelian judgment of the urban world: "Men come together in cities in order to live. They remain together in order to live the good life."

It is perhaps also appropriate to give the reader, as either encouragement or discouragement, some conception of what is to be found in the pages that lie ahead. I have said that this is a book about one aspect of what it is like to live in cities. The character of that aspect of focus is contained in the title, A World of Strangers. To live in a city is, among many other things, to live surrounded by large numbers of persons whom one does not know. To experience the city is, among many other things, to experience anonymity. To cope with the city is, among . . .

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