The Urban Lifeworld

The Urban Lifeworld

The Urban Lifeworld

The Urban Lifeworld

Synopsis

These essays, the result of detailed research, contribute to the understanding of the cultural role of cities by offering a new approach to the analysis of the urban experience. Two major cities, New York and Copenhagen, are used as vehicles for this exploration of sociological, anthropological and esthetic issues. Contributions by academics in the field of literature bring new insight to this comparative work.

Excerpt

Richard Plunz

In their new Foreword to the 1977 edition of The Intellectual Versus the City (1962), Morton and Lucia White point to the deepening crisis of the American city as further evidence of the “ambivalence or antagonism” toward the city that their research had attempted to demonstrate had always existed in American arts and letters. But a re-reading of the Whites' text today does not necessarily have to lead to the same conclusion that they reached in 1962, when the process of American post-war de-urbanization was still being expedited with maximum dispatch, and with the resultant urban degradation and suburban dispersal still fresh in people's eyes and minds. Indeed, as we move into another era it is possible to see the Whites' exercise in a somewhat different light, cast by a new historiographic understanding of the enormous scale and intensity of the de-urbanization strategy from the New Deal onward, tempered by our having moved from this first post-industrial crisis to a second or even third today. Now we can more clearly see that by the end of the 1950s, de-urbanist revisionism had penetrated the academic world, such that urban historiography began to devalue the role of the city in the development of our national culture.

The 1930s' post-industrial economic remedies entailed invention of a culture of consumption on an unprecedented scale, linked inextricably to urban dispersal through suburbanization. Within this reconfiguration, which was highly motivated by political ideology, the old city of density and propinquity could not function as the incubator for the new society. A new historiography had to be found which redefined American culture as anti-urban to validate the new ideology. In particular, works like The Intellectual Versus the City consciously or unconsciously served such purposes. Now it is important to reconsider this period, to reassert that cities large and small served as the crucial incubators of American culture; and to verify that historical discourse relative to the virtues of city and country was far more complex than the post-war revisionists would lead us to believe. In this regard, a re-reading of the texts of many of the Whites' urban “protagonists” provides us with a complex intellectual reflection on the nature of American culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Given that American cities were growing exponentially like everywhere in the industrializing world, one would expect this process to raise doubts about the course of urban events, producing an important debate about the viability of the city. Notably, however, there was little by way of urban rejection until well into the twentieth century.

An important ingredient for this re-reading is the relation between city, culture, and nature. It is true, perhaps, that a big difference between the European and American approaches to the idea of the industrial city had to do with the conception of nature. One

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