Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space, and City Building in a Global Era

Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space, and City Building in a Global Era

Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space, and City Building in a Global Era

Return to the Center: Culture, Public Space, and City Building in a Global Era

Excerpt

Scholars and practitioners of urban design, planning, or urban studies are united today in their attempt to grapple with a dramatic revolution in the relationship between people and urban space. The buzzwords in urban theory—globalization, postmodernity, cyberspace, deconstruction, simulation —evoke a spirit of change in the air. Healthy debates are raging as to which paradigms will define urban space in the new millennium. There is a consensus that global, technological, and social forces have broken the bonds that traditionally shaped city structure. A new urban order is forming in a world of virtual space, changing territorial behavior, and reinvented communities.

One set of writers argues that the traditional city—the metropolis of tangible physical space, from pedestrians and streets to buildings and town squares—is on the decline. It will be replaced, they tell us, by a new prototype—whose spatial form will mimic Los Angeles, the postmodern metropolis that has given birth to its own school of contemporary urban theory. L.A. theorists are convinced that Southern California is the best laboratory for understanding twenty-first-century urbanization. A spin-off group believes cities will morph into cybernetic spaces that will increasingly eclipse visceral, material places.

Unquestionably, these are innovative and critical discourses for the urban studies field. However, in our zest to embrace new paradigms of urbanism, we must not be too quick to dismiss the significance of physical, material space, which I would argue is still the essential element that distinguishes the science (and art!) of the study of built . . .

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