Chapter 2 Lewis Mumford: The City as Man

IN Sketches from Life ( 1982), his most sustained reminiscence, Lewis Mumford writes about how the city brought him to maturity, giving him a sense of its educative powers. His self-understanding, as he presents it, became inseparable from his gradual knowledge of what the city and its communities were, and what they could be. Like Riis, Mumford found that urban thought became impoverished if the terms "city" and "community" did not involve morally transfiguring opportunities: specifically, the democracy of participating in and sharing humanity's cultural and natural heritage. And again like Riis, Mumford's reflections trace his refusal to think about the city apart from humans as they do exist and might live. People are depicted amidst their creations. For Mumford, as for Riis before him, writing about urban form, city design, and regional affairs is, ultimately, a discussion of the city's ability to provide not only a decent life, but also the good life.

"I was a child of the city," Mumford recalls, adding that "for the first thirty years of my life I knew the country only as a visitor, though the occasional summers I spent on a Vermont farm before 1910 had first and last an influence on me that offset my long incarceration in what Melville called 'the Babylonish brick-kiln' of New York."1 This is a pronouncement, emphasizing the perennial, major concerns of Mumford's work. On the one hand, Mumford speaks of the historical separation of city from countryside: a symptom of divided man expressed by the urban bricks of captivity and the natural life of the farm. On the other hand, the controlling theme of eutopian writing is begun: the city as parent. Ancient and modern, how many men of letters--or the protagonists of their work-- have started out with parochial ambitions in city streets only to become transfigured by the idea of the authentic city? An urban education, so this tradition suggests, begins with a curious wandering across an inchoate metropolis and ends with the revelation that a city re-presents man's

-64-

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Makers of the City
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1- Jacob A. Riis: The City As Christian Fraternity 10
  • Chapter 2- Lewis Mumford: The City as Man 64
  • Chapter 3- James T. Farrell: The City As Society 119
  • Chapter 4- Paul Goodman: The City as Self 159
  • Epilogue 207
  • Notes 211
  • Bibliographical Notes 231
  • Index 237
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