The Prospect of Cities

The Prospect of Cities

The Prospect of Cities

The Prospect of Cities

Synopsis

In essays as engaging as they are informative, a leading figure in urban planning and geography broadly surveys the complex terrain of global urbanization.

Excerpt

The city is dead. It vanished sometime during the twentieth century. As it grew in population and expanded horizontally, many attempted to rescue it, to revive it, to hold back urban sprawl, to recover a sense of urbanity and civic order. But the forces that led to its demise could not be held back, much less reversed. What remained were palimpsests and memories; the city had become a metaphor. I shall refer to these remains as β€œthe urban.”

The historical city had never, of course, conformed to a single type. Without attempting to trace their evolution from the proto-cities of Meso-America, the Middle East, and Asia, we do know that urban centers in Islamic countries, in precolonial West Africa, in Tang dynasty China, in medieval Europe, and in colonial America were very different from one another in the several dimensions that count: the architecture of built form, political-administrative structure, social relations, cultural meanings, and the economy. Still, because they were cities and thus by their relative density and physical form a specific form of human settlement, they stood out against the surrounding countryside and thrived chiefly through trade and manufactures. This, at least, is what they all had in common.

Academic discourse about cities picked up on this diversity. Lewis Mumford (1938) and Carl E. Schorske (1980) wrote about the culture of cities; Georg Simmel (1969) and Richard Sennett (1990) focused on social relations; Hannah Arendt (1958) wanted to resurrect the Greek polis in the political sense; Spiro Kostof (1992) lovingly collected images . . .

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