Cities and Urban Cultures

Cities and Urban Cultures

Cities and Urban Cultures

Cities and Urban Cultures


• What is distinctive about urban life?

• What key trends have shaped the contemporary city?

• How have the city and urban cultures been explained by sociology and cultural studies?

This is the first book to explore cities and urban life from the perspectives of both sociology and cultural theory. Through an interdisciplinary approach and use of case material, the book demonstrates that the 'real' city of physicality and struggle and the 'imagined' city of representations are entwined in the construction of urban cultures.

Starting with a comparison of the rural and the urban, the book considers ways of imagining the city and of conceptualising urban cultures. It goes on to investigate the implications of several pivotal urban and cultural trends, such as the use of the arts and local cultures in city re-imaging, and the ways in which modernism, postmodernism and globalisation have shaped the built environment and the orientation of academic enquiry. Also examined is the way in which representations of the urban landscape in film, literature, art, and popular texts, have informed dominant ideas about the way certain city spaces - including city centres, urban waterfronts, and so-called 'global cities' - should look, function and 'feel'.

Designed as a text for undergraduate courses in cultural studies, sociology and wider social science, this book traces the development of urban environments from the nineteenth century to the present, and illuminates the nature of urban life.


'The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible.' These words were written by E.B. White in his essay 'Here is New York', published in April 1949. He continues: 'A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.' Evidently White had spent part of the previous summer reacquainting himself with the city, reminiscing about his life there as a younger person, and thinking about how the atomic bomb had changed much of what he had come to take for granted.

These words assume a new resonance today. Their prophetic quality has been much remarked upon by those who have returned to them after 11 September 2001. Several media commentaries have invoked them to chilling effect, contrasting the images they call to mind with the realities of that day's tragic loss of life. The deliberate crashing of the passenger airliners has ended once and for all the 'island fantasy', to use White's evocative phrase, that such catastrophes do not happen in places like the United States. Central to Deborah Stevenson's Cities and Urban Cultures are pressing questions about the cultural imaginings of cities as lived spaces. In the case of New York on that fateful Tuesday, she offers the important insight that the destruction of the World Trade Center towers 'was considerably more than a personal or local tragedy. It was imbued with a range of national, global, cultural, urban and symbolic significances. Indeed, it went to the core of what it meant to be [modern].'

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