The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth

The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth

The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth

The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth

Synopsis

This award-winning book charts the unfolding, from the Revolutionary War to the Great Depression, of the American tradition of city building and city living, using Philadelphia as a resonant example.

Excerpt

This book is about the unfolding of the American tradition of city building and city living. It does not treat what was unique about Philadelphia, but presents the city as a resonant example of the majory cities that have given form to the culture and society of the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cleveland, St. Louis, and the like.

Ours is not a nation dominated by its capital city, the way Franceis by Paris; instead it functions as a confederacy of regional metropolises. Each city is at once the competitor and the partner of all the others. I chose Philadelphia because industrialism has defined our cities and Philadelphia is the oldest of the industrial cities. In the history of Philadelphia we observe first the setting of the American urban tradition during the years of the Revolution, and then the triumphs and failures of that tradition as the successive stages of industrialization and urbanization unfold. Philadelphia is not, like London, a mother of cities, but she is the eldest of the sisters.

At the time this book was written, during 1960'the early 1960'and 1960'mid- 1960's, American cities were experiencing one of their periodic moments of explosive change. There were, as on previous occasions, explosions of expectations, explosions of populations, and explosions in city building. After decades of economic depression and world war there were fresh hopes for family life, a marriage boom and a baby boom. Millions of Americans expressed their pent-up hopes for clean, comfortable new houses and neighborhoods in the purchase of detached suburban houses with new electrical appliances, family rooms, and yards. On the job front there were expectations that the harsh times of the twenties and thirties were over and that union and management cooperation, new machines, new processes, and new products could simultaneously raise wages, profits, and working conditions. On this wave of rising expectations for comfort and decency came the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement with its insistent demands that . . .

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