I love that LA is one of the case studies in Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City (see his broader arguments in parts 1 and 2). It was almost disconcerting realising that this was written in 1960, when LA was such a different place. Bunker Hill still there, Pershing Square still a proper landscaped square not a barely functional ugly unwelcoming space covering a parking lot. But this is also a city I know very well through personal experience and study, so could bring both to bear, and this offered a good perspective on the limitations of the book.
This description of (white, professional) views of downtown are also startling:
The general image is remarkable for its emptiness east of Main or Los Angeles Streets, and south of 7th Street, except for the extension of the repeating grid. The central area is set in a vacuum. This L-shaped center is liberally sprinkled with remembered landmarks, chief of them being the Statler and Biltmore Hotels… But only two landmarks were described in any concrete detail: the ugly, black and gold Richfield Building and the pyramided top of the City Hall (35).
Wow — first, city hall makes sense but the Statler Hotel? Not a landmark I would have given, and one now torn down (for the story, see the great blog from Paradise Leased).
Second, the Richfield Building ugly? I confess I didn’t actually know this as the Richfield Building, but I did know the building itself and quite love it:
Third…this is such a white view of downtown LA — as Lynch himself shows later. So to look at the white map of downtown LA:
In describing the areas, Lynch writes:
Bunker Hill is not as strong an image, despite its historical connotations, and quite a few felt that it was “not in the downtown area.” Indeed, it is surprising how the core, in bending around this major topographic feature, has succeeded in visually burying it (36).
I suppose that made it much easier for them to tear it down, that and the way it was full of poor people and people of color, which as later findings on LA seem to show means such areas are erased from mental maps of those in power. I am still mourning Bunker Hill.
Then there is the shock of Pershing Square being a decent public space….though given his list of its uses, it’s very clear why the city council should have destroyed it.
Pershing Square is consistently the strongest element of all: an exotically landscaped open space in the heart of downtown, reinforced by its use as an outdoor political forum, camp meeting, and old people’s rest. (36-37)
So now we get to why I should bring race into things (if you were not already on board with that and wondering):
Broadway was perhaps the only path which was unmistakable for all…Although conceded to be the core, if anything is, yet Broadway was not a shopping area for most of these middle-class persons. Its walks are crowded with the ethnic minorities and lower-income groups who living quarters ring the central section. the subjects interviewed regarded this linear core as an alien one, looking at it with varying degrees of avoidance, curiosity, or fear. They were quick to describe the status differences between the Broadway crowds, and those to be seen on 7th Street, which, if not elite, is at least a middle-class shopping street. (38)
Yes, Lynch did, in fact, only interview professional white folks working in the downtown core. It is the ‘ethnic minorities’ and ‘lower-income groups’ whose living quarters form the ’emptiness’ of the white maps, their streets the ‘no-go’ areas. This is a vision of the ‘other’ with a vengeance, the alien. It is not one that is taken up or questioned. It is just left there. Broadway is highlighted as a landmark mostly because it was the corridor for street cars rather than buses — streetcars! The destruction of public transportation networks and fear generated through racism…a pretty good explanation of what happened to LA.
What is curious, though, is that even for these white respondents fearful of Broadway, Olvera Street was special. That surprised me, but perhaps its mixture of genuine history and culture with a facade of touristy Mexican-ness rendered it palatable. Lynch writes of the courtyard at its South end:
Not only is this small spot visually very distinct, but it is the only true historical anchor-point in the city and seems to generate a fierce attachment (39).
When asked to describe or symbolize the city as a whole, the subjects used certain standard words: “spread-out,” “spacious,” “formless,” “without centers.” Los Angeles seemed to be hard to envision or conceptualize as a whole. An endless spread, which may carry pleasant connotations of space around the dwellings, or overtones of weariness and disorientation, was the common image. Said one subject: “It’s as if you were going somewhere for a long time, and when you got there you discovered there was nothing there, after all. (40-41)
This note on trying to find something to hold on to is interesting.
Another frequent theme was that of relative age. Perhaps because so much of the environment is new or changing, there was evidence of widespread, almost pathological, attachment to anything that had survived the upheaval.
Yet they kept tearing things down. Bunker Hill was just about to go…Another thing I am so sad I never saw:
In Los Angeles, on 7th Street at the corner of Flower Street, is an old, two-story gray wooden building, set back some ten feet from the building line, containing a few minor shops. This took the attention and fancy of a surprising number of people. One even anthropomorphized it as the “little gray lady.” (81)
In Los Angeles there is an impression that the fluidity of the environment and absence of physical elements which anchor to the past are exciting and disturbing. Many descriptions of the scene by established residents, young or old, were accompanied by ghosts of what used to be there. Changes, such as those wrought by the freeway system, have left scars on the mental image. (45)
LA as a city of ghosts.
In looking at the specifics of how the city space works, Lynch writes:
…more abrupt directional shifts may enhance visual clarity by limiting the spatial corridor… one was prevented from sensing the vacuum in which central Los Angeles is placed by the grid shifts which close off the outward view. (56)
Once again, let us remember that the ‘vacuum’ consists of the homes and neighbourhoods of poor people and people of colour. Maybe I shouldn’t be, yet I remain astonished at the lack of self-reflexivity in these statements. The degree to which the book and this kind of scholarship is rendered shoddy by a lack of questioning such constructions, and the reality that as part of a privileged group, Lynch is completely unable to see, much less understand, how other groups move through and understand the city he is studying. To end with perhaps one of the most insightful points Lynch makes (without quite realising it I think):
The psychological distance between two localities may be much greater, or more difficult to surmount, than mere physical separation seems to warrant. (85)
Where the first part of The Image of the City looks at the big picture of how and why human beings need to be able to read their cities, and how they find their way through them, Kevin Lynch in Chapter III goes on to the nitty gritty, as he analyses physical, perceptible objects and their relation to imageability. Lynch classifies these into five types of elements:
Paths: … the channels along which the observer customarily, occasionally, or potentially moves… For many people, these are the predominant elements in their image.
Edges: …the linear elements not used or considered as paths… the boundaries between two phases, linear breaks in continuity: shores, railroad cuts… some edges may be barriers, more or less penetrable, which close one region off from another; or they may be seams, lines along which two regions are related…
Districts: …the medium-to-large sectiosn of the city, conceived of as having two-dimensional extent, which the observer mentally enters “inside-of,” and which are recognizable as having some common, identifying character.
Nodes: … points, the strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter … they may be primarily junctions, places of a break in transportation, a crossing or convergence of paths, moments of shift from one structure to another. Or the ndoes may be simply concentrations… a street-corner hangout or an enclosed square. (47)
Landmarks: …another type of point-reference, but in this case the observer does not enter within them, they are external (48).
The visual drawings of each can be found in the margins (I quite love the use of the margins in this book, they make reading this unique to most books on cities)
More on how these all work:
These elements are simply the raw material of the environmental image at the city scale. They must be patterned together to provide a satisfying form. (83)
And this…oh this is an aside for Lynch, but opens up so much in terms of how people move through space and those boundary lines of race, class, age…so much.
The psychological distance between two localities may be much greater, or more difficult to surmount, than mere physical separation seems to warrant. (85)
I loved this about the various maps that people drew, how the progression of physical things didn’t change even if they experienced them in very different ways:
However distorted, there was a strong element of topological invariance with respect to reality. it was as if the map were drawn on an infinitely flexible rubber sheet; directions were twisted, distances stretched or compressed, large forms so changed from their accurate scale projection as to be at first unrecognizable. But the sequence was usually correct, the map was rarely torn and sewn back together in another order. (87)
That would be so interesting to dig more deeply into, understand how individual relationships to the city and its various communities might impact these maps.
The larger goal that Lynch is attempting to reach with this work:
We have the opportunity of forming our new city world into an imageable landscape: visible, coherent, and clear. It will require a new attitude on the part of the city dweller, and a physical reshaping of his domain into forms which entrance the eye, which organize themselves from level to level in time and space, which can stand as symbols for urban life. (91)
The common hopes and pleasure, the sense of community may be made flesh. Above all, if the environment is visibly organized and sharply identified, then the citizen can inform it with his own meanings and connections. Then it will become a place, remarkable and unmistakable. (92)
It is interesting to think about how the ‘sense of community may be made flesh’, how by organizing an environment and providing clear markers in it, people’s quality of life and relationships might also be transformed.
To continue on to how one might actually plan for this, beginning with the improvement of paths, which are
the most potent means by which the whole can be ordered. The key lines should have some singular quality which marks them off from the surrounding channels: a concentration of some special use or activity along their margins, a characteristic spatial quality, a secial texture of floor or facade, a particular lighting pattern, a unique set of smells or sounds, a typical detail or mode of planting. (96)
Methods might include emphasizing nature of street to get somewhere with perspective, using a gradient and then there is this:
Where the journey contains such a series of distinct events, a reaching and passing of one sub-goal after another, the trip itself takes on meaning and becomes an experience in its own right. (97)
I think he captures the joy brought by traversing certain streets fairly well here. I particularly love the analogy with music he brings to bear:
There is a final way of organizing a path or set of paths … It might be called “melodic” in analogy to music. The events and characteristics along the path–landmarks, space changes, dynamic sensations–might be organized as a melodic line, perceived and imaged as a form which is experienced over a substantial time interval. (99)
On nodes he writes, that they are
the conceptual anchor points in our cities. Rarely in the United States, however, do they have a form adequate to support this attention… (102)
They need to be places, with some defining characteristics. So on to his list (yay lists) of qualities of urban design that create successful places:
Singularity or figure-background clarity: sharpness of boundary…closure…contrast
Form Simplicity: …in the geometrical sense (105)
Continuity: continuance of an edge or surface … nearness of parts (as in a cluster fo buildings); repetition of rhythmic interval … similarity, analogy, or harmony of surface…
Dominance: …of one part over others by means of size, intensity, or interest
Clarity of Joint: … high visibility of joints and seams… clear relation and interconnection
Directional Differentiation: asymmetries, gradients, and radial differences which differentiate one end from another…
Visual Scope: qualities which increase the range and penetration of vision…transparencies…overlaps… vistas and panoramas… articulating elements… (106)
Motion awareness: the qualities which make sensible to the observer…his own actual or potential motion…
Time Series: series which are sensed over time … or truly structured in time and thus melodic in nature (107)
Names and Meanings: non-physical characteristics which may enhance the imageability of an element.
Below are the visuals corresponding to the first 7 of these elements, to be read down the left side and then down the right:
Kevin Lynch continues:
In discussing design by element types, there is a tendency to skim over the interrelation of the parts into a whole. in such a whole, paths would expose and prepare for the districts, and link together the various nodes. The nodes would joint and mark off the paths, while the edges would bound off the districts, and the landmarks would indicate their cores. It is the total orchestration of these unites which would knit together a dense and vivid image, and sustain it over areas of metropolitan scale. (108)
A good reminder, one often forgotten. Ultimately, he argues
…the function of a good visual environment may not be simply to facilitate routine trips, nor to support meanings and feelings already possessed. Quite as important may be its role as a guide and a stimulus for new exploration. In a complex society, there are many interactions to be mastered. in a democracy, we deplore isolation, extol individual development, hope for ever-widening communication between groups. If an environment has a strong visible framework and highly characteristic parts, then exploration of new sectors is both easier and more inviting. if strategic links in communication (such as museums or libraries or meeting places) are clearly set forth, then those who might otherwise neglect them may be tempted to enter. (110)
This aspect of planning and urban design is coming to the fore now, I think, which is really something to celebrate. Like Lynch, however, many of those writing don’t really pay much attention to power, capital, inequalities, racism and fear … those tricky things. So these remain ideals, potentialities opened up though with little sense of how to make them reality. Lynch does, however, note how the city is full of many very different people, and so its designers have to create places that allow for wide differences in how people organize their city. I do love, for all my critique, that Lynch’s principal solution is that designers must provide their cities richly with the different imageable elements that people can organize according to their wishes. Can’t be too specialized or orchestrated, you don’t want people to feel that one path dominates, multiple paths and adventures must be left open.
He ends with idea that not only do planners need to build more eligible cities, but also that people need to be taught to read them better, to really see them. He advocates programs
teaching him to look at his city, to observe its manifold forms and how they mesh with one another. Citizens could be taken into the street, classes could be held in the schools and universities, the city could be made an animated museum of our society and its hopes. (117)
Something about this section strikes me as rather patronising in its wording, yet I love the idea, and particularly love thinking about how the city might in fact be an animated museum of our society and its hopes. People should think about their cities, it is an important part of having more power over them.
Two final notes of interest, first, this almost throwaway comment on the underground:
The subway is a disconnected nether world, and it is intriguing to speculate what means might be used to mesh it into the structure of the whole. (57)
I’m more excited about the netherworld, I confess. A last note on speed, which I’ve been thinking about a lot since reading Le Corbusier and Illich:
The increasing size of our metropolitan areas and the speed with which we traverse them raise many new problems for perception. (112)
I think it has, it does. He doesn’t get into the ways cities have been built for cars, but that is clearly inimical to the kind of planning and design he is thinking about.
One final post on LA specifically, a little more discussion of class and race, and on to the next book from my reading list:
Kevin Lynch — he’s been on my list of folks to read forever on architecture and cities and space, and with reason as The Image of the City is rather brilliant. He writes:
Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. City design is therefore a temporal art… At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surrounding, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences. (1)
I love this nod to the overwhelming — and mostly pleasurable — nature of the city, the ways it works in both space and time, and like Lofland, Whyte, Cullen, Gehl and others, he is clearly writing as someone with an appreciation for city life. It is a life that is in many ways collectively constructed:
Not only is the city an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of widely diverse class and character, but it is the product of many builders who are consonantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own… No wonder, then, that the art of shaping cities is an art quite separate from architecture or music or literature. (2)
In The Image of the City, Lynch’s focus is primarily looking at what he calls the ‘legibility’ of the cityscape — how we read cities and how understanding that can help us (re)build better cities. Why is legibility key?
A good environmental image gives its possessor an important sense of emotional security. He can establish an harmonious relationships between himself and the outside world…(4)
I love this quote even more…
a distinctive and legible environment not only offers security but also heightens the potential depth and intensity of human experience. Although life is far from impossible in the visual chaos of the modern city, the same daily action could take on new meaning if carried out in a more vivid setting. (5)
This is not to go against the many authors who write about the unknown, Lynch emphasises that this not to deny the value of labyrinth or surprise, but under two larger conditions — where there is no danger of losing basic
orientation, of never coming out. The surprise must occur in an over-all framework; the confusions must be small regions in a visible whole…. Complete chaos without hint of connection is never pleasurable. (6)
Another important qualification, the power of human beings to shape the urban environment:
The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs… what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development. (6)
So to understand how this all works, he book tries to get at the ways people understand and read cities, the
‘public images,’ the common mental pictures carried around by large numbers of a city’s inhabitants… (7)
I love maps, and so found this a fascinating way to examine people’s relationships to the urban form, splitting it into useful divisions to be examined:
The mental maps that are shared of streets and landmarks. These are analyzed in terms of identity (its recognition as a separable entity), structure (the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and other objects) and meaning (for the observer, whether practical or emotional). (8)
Above all in understanding legibility is this:
imageability: that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer. It is that shape, color, or arrangement which facilitates the making of vividly identified, powerfully structured, highly useful mental images of the environment. (9)
A highly imageable (apparent, legible, or visible) city in this peculiar sense would seem well formed, distinct, remarkable; it would invite the eye and the ear to greater attention and participation. The sensuous grasp upon such surroundings would not merely be simplified, but also extended and deepened. Such a city would be one that could be apprehended over time as a pattern of high continuity with many distinctive parts clearly interconnected. The perceptive and familiar observer could absorb new sensuous impacts without disruption in his basic image, and each new impact would touch upon many previous elements. He would be well oriented, and he could move easily. He would be highly aware of his environment. The city of Venice might be an example of such a highly imageable environment. (10)
Venice again, but I think this is definitely how a city works best, and this imageablity is the center of his study of Boston, LA and Jersey City. What follows is a really interesting way of mapping out perceptions of the city through surveys and interviews. The maps are brilliant:
Particularly interesting is the look at problems, as in the ‘Problems of the Boston image’ (p 24 — though you won’t be surprised to find that Boston has fewer problems than the other two):
This marks what Kevin Lynch describes as the
confusions, floating points, weak boundaries, isolations, breaks in continuity, ambiguities, branchings, lacks of character or differentiation. (25)
Of course it beats both Jersey City and Los Angeles hands down as a memorable, enjoyably walkable and legible city. I do myself have a great soft spot for Boston. I thought I’d go into more detail on LA in a second post, as it is my own city after all. It also highlights Lynch’s limitations, but there is much to be mined from the book.
First, what development has done to the US city centre:
There is the same piling-up of blank office structures, the same ubiquity of traffic ways and parking lots (34).
This has made them almost indistinguishable from one another, Lynch notes Jersey City as the least distinguishable of all — funny that what people most loved about it was the view of New York’s skyline on their horizon.
Common themes between the cities:
…people adjust to their surroundings and extract structure and identity out of the material at hand. The types of elements used in the city image, and the qualities that make them strong or weak, seem quite comparable between the three…
In terms of broad themes, the key favourite aspects of all cities were space and views:
Among other things, the tests made clear the significance of space and breadth of view (43) … there was an emotional delight arising from a broad view, which was referred to many times. …
The landscape features of the city: the vegetation or the water, were often noted with care and pleasure. (44)
Also a deep sense of the spatialities of class (race is not discussed at all, except in an oblique way, a truly blindingly un-scholarly way which the post on LA will deal with more)
Quite as apparent is the constant reference to socio-economic class: the avoidance of “lower class” Broadway in Los Angeles, the recognition of the “upper class” Bergen Section in Jersey City, or the unmistakable division of Boston’s Beacon Hill into two distinct sides.
Space and time:
… the way in which the physical scene symbolizes the passage of time… (45)
So in broad strokes, there is a lot to think about here… the next post gets into the nitty gritty of design elements and physical space.
[Lynch, Kevin (1960) The Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press]
I end these series of posts on Lyn Lofland’s The Public Realm on a positive note (also see posts one, two and three). She bases her book based on the ‘root assumption … that the public realm has social value.’ (229) I will wrap up with her look at the aesthetics of city spaces, as well as the positive aspects they bring to our lives and to our societies as a whole.
First, aesthetic pleasures:
By aesthetic pleasure, I am referring to the experience of enjoyment occasioned by certain (mostly) visual qualities of the built environment. (78)
It is interesting that Lofland’s own analysis of the city’s cuilt environment and spaces doesn’t really intersect with those of Alexander, Cullen, or Sitte with whom they share much in common, but it is a good list.
…the pleasure that arises from glimpsing a small piece of the built environment, a glimpse that suggests that an interesting, exotic, weird, enticing, possibly enchanting social world exists just outside one’s range of vision. (80)
There is research suggesting a fairly strong preference for urban places that are “familiar”…for some individuals at least, the opposite of the quality of familiarity — unexpectedness– seems also to appeal… the issue becomes not one or the other, but how much of one, how much of the other… (81)
Also note the fact that a very fat cat named Tidly used to live in London Paddington’s lady’s loo!
Whimsy: Fanciful, frivolous, eccentric street furniture or sculpture — she uses Prince Albert Memorial as an example, I confess I am slightly unsure of its suitedness.
Historical Layering/ Physical Juxtaposition: Again London is a prime example, ancient buildings alongside modern.
To move on to the value of the public realm itself beyond the aesthetic. Lofland looks at the wealth of literature (cites Fischer 1982, Wellman and Wortley 1990, Berger 1977) on the value of the parochial realm, of ‘community’, neighbourhood, kin and friend networks, organisations, which all testify to
our certainty that the parochial realm gives us a degree of physical and emotional safety; enlarges, while still containing, the world of our growing young; provides us with affirmation of our personal worth; and “mediates” our linkages to the powerful nation-state. (229)
She notes in addition the feminist critique of the dangers of the city for women, but cites Elizabeth Wilson (1991: 7,10) on what the city provides in addition:
The city offers women freedom . . . Surely it is possible to be both pro-cities and pro-women, to hold in balance an awareness of both the pleasures and the dangers that the city offers women, and to judge that in the end, urban life, however fraught with difficulty, has emancipated women more than rural life or suburban domesticity. (230)
Lofland also argues that city generates cosmopolitanism, that it
produces — by its very nature — a populace that is far more open to and accepting of human variability, far more inclined to civility … (231)
The idea of cosmopolitanism, has, of course, been much studied since 1998 and the best of it getting at this kind of dynamic rather than simply the mobilities and diversity of privilege. Lofland loves lists almost as much as I do I think, and makes what she calls an ‘Inventory of Utility’ (231) or 6 uses or functions of the public realm — another very useful list:
An environment for learning
Respites and refreshments — places to sit and rest, drink, enjoy
A Communications Center — places to meet, talk
The “Practice” of Politics — builds on Sennet’s arguments around public space and how they build citizenship
The Enactment of Social Arrangements and Social Conflict — public dramas and spectacles
The Creation of Cosmopolitans: ‘claim that city living — by itself — generated tolerance and civility, that city living — by itself — created cosmopolitans … one of the linchpins in the argument that cities are good places to live.’ (237)
She then digs deeper into this idea of cosmopolitanism and what facilitates it, looking at both the negative and positive tolerances that are generated in city life. To start with what studies seem to show are the negative tolerances and the ways that they are generated:
People share a larger bounded space but not the smaller pieces of it (238) — Robert Park’s descriptions of urban mosaic where people remain almost invisible to each other
People physically share smaller spaces within the larger space but segregate themselves from one another symbolically. (238) Visible in preindustrial city, where classes for example shared space but did not interact
I need to think more about those. This is not just indifference, but self-segregation, even if at a small scale …. I don’t think this has to be part of how people react to the public realm, but rather reflects the divisions in the larger society, particularly the US. On to what generates positive tolerances:
Diverse people are not segregated into homogeneous enclaves and are forced to settle whatever conflicts arise among them without recourse to centrally imposed instruments of order. (239)
People have mastered the complexity of the urban environment sufficiently to move through it with a high degree of psychic safety. (239) … the mastery of shorthand methods for accurately interpreting who people are and what they are up to allows urbanites to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner … and thus allows them to confront the heterogeneity of the city with a minimum of distrust and fear.
The levels of community closest to the actor (the home, the immediate neighborhood) are secure and nonthreatening. (240) People have to be able to withdraw to safety.
People are able to control the character and quality of their contact with diverse others. This can’t be forced.
People possess certain demographic characteristics. those characteristics themselves generating a capacity for tolerance. (240) The literature talks about these demographics being highly educated, high status, single, childless… this seems wrong to me, very wrong, I mean look at the conviviality of working class neighborhoods. But researchers tend not to come from those neighborhoods, and they aren’t all convivial I suppose. Dearborn in the 50s for example. Anyway.
An interesting list. More interesting is the way that cosmpolitanism as a positive force emerges not from those relationships more privileged by most social scientists, but from fleeting public ones:
The learning of tolerance, the creation of cosmopolitanism may require the existence of and repeated experience with “nonintimate,” “noncommunal,” relationships. Limited, segmental, episodic, distanced links between self and other may constitute the social situations that both allow and teach civility and urbanity in the face of significant differences. And this assertion brings us to the matter of the public realm. (242)
Also interesting is the list of potential ideal conditions for the creation of cosmopolitanism, what Lofland calls a ‘highly regulated urban anarchism’
City should be small and compactly settled, pedestrian or mass-transit oriented, people share public realm in pursuit of everyday activity
Degree of segregation of people and activities minimized
Differences between people must be seen by them as ‘meaningful’ — they must be encountering people with whom they disagree, disapprove, or fear mild fear .. the city must have a hard edge as opposed to DIsneyland city
This hard edge cannot be felt to make public space feel so dangerous, people do not venture into it (243)
I like the emphasis that it cannot be a fully safe space, that it has to be full of strangers and challenging to people’s prejudices, that it has to minimize segregation and homogeneity…
All in all, I found this an immensely useful and thought-provoking work that I hope to think through further…
[Lofland, Lyn H. (1998) The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. New York: Aldine de Gruyter)
So I do believe that this will be blog three of four (see one and two), combining Lofland’s descriptions of antiurban scholarship and feeling as found in The Public Realm. I recognised more of the figures from these chapters, but she looks at them in interesting ways.
First, the ways that this sentiment emerges on both left and right — for example from David Harvey (1973) writing that:
the ultimate villain for the Left is the economic system and its operation, cities per se … become the “intervening villains” as in David Harvey’s assertion that “cities…are founded upon the exploitation of the many by the few. An urbanism founded upon exploitation is a legacy of history. A genuinely humanizing urbanism has yet to be brought into being.” (1973: 314) (111)
I never think of Harvey in this way really, but of course it makes sense that for him the city is the locus of exploitation. From the right it is more clearcut:
From the point of view of the Right, cities are simply blamed in a relatively straightforward manner … for the failings that might otherwise be attributed to the economic system. Thus the existence of a black underclass, poverty in general, and crime are all defined as urban problems and, as such, not worth “throwing money at.” (111)
She looks at huge amount of literature n the negative impacts of high-density living — things it will be good to follow up for the next piece I’m thinking of writing — Baldassare (1983), Cholding (1978) and Freedman (1975) give summations of these, though dated. Other scholars, I think she is thinking in particular of many of teh social movement scholarship, trace the city’s negative psychological impacts. For them the city is often seen as a variable causing protest, conflict and violence (and these are all greatly conflated and all bad). This was challenged by Tilly. Who I still haven’t read but need to.
Lofland departs from all this to look at what she believes to be the true source of antiurban feeling:
I do not believe we despise the city of any of these oft-mentioned reason. Rather, I would like to offer the hypothesis that we despise the city largely because it is the only settlement form that has a public realm. (113)
This is because we judge the public realm with the moral standards of the parochial and private realms. Interesting. Do we? Do I? Have I been until now?
Lofland starts with what she calls the ‘Direct Assaults’ or the kinds of open attacks that have been made on the public realm, arranging them thematically:
The Presence of the Unholy and the Unwashed (116) — Based on Victorian ideas of contamination (particularly in encouraging women to stay home), views of poverty, homelessness. God knows this is still far too alive today.
Mixing the unmixable (118) — this is a place where different categories of people mix together (oh no!), this is fear is broader than, but includes the fear of, the most poor. She doesn’t talk much about race, but this clearly includes the ‘Other’. She describes:
The idea that there is a social territory in which various types or categories of people whom a deity, nature, tradition, etc., had intended to remain forever separate are allowed to mingle provides the occasion for much agonized hand-wringing… (119)
The Sacrilegious Frivolity of Uncontrolled Play: (121) I rather love this one, as will situationists and performance artists everywhere.
In the public realm, the argument goes, the unquestioned virtues of sobriety, industry, rationality, diligence, and so forth are not only challenged, they are discarded. (121)
Political Anarchy: Oh yes…
… it will seem particularly attractive as a site for politics to those who cannot command significant private space… the unmonied — the outcasts, the dangerous classes, the unworthy poor, the mob, the unwashed masses, the proletariat, the underclass — in short, to all those urban folks who … inspire fear in the hearts of authorities everywhere. (124)
Then there are the ‘Indirect Assaults’, where the target is another issue, but the public realm gets drawn in. ‘Preserving the Gentler Sex’ (128) and the appropriate conduct of women, ‘Leading Men Not Into Temptation’ (129) and the Victorian anti-prostitution movement, ‘Prohibiting Demon Rum’ (130) and the temperance movements, ‘Protecting Innocent Children and Corruptible Youth’ (131) are the examples she gives. It is clear that the city has been a something of a villain in all of those movements, this is making me remember Deborah Epstein Nord’s Walking the Victorian Streets among other works …
The focus to this point has been on larger antiurban social movements, in the next chapter, however, Lofland moves to individual feeling and the rise of value give to private space.
In trying to understand this, she distinguishes privatism from privatization as the individual preference for private space. This shift is made possible by the changing technological innovations that have allowed a withdrawal from the public realm (and also the parochial realm) in ways impossible for all but the very wealthiest before — cars, a weekly shop at the grocery store rather than regular stops at the local market, entertainment through radio and television to be enjoyed in the home, all of the things that work to create ‘cocoons of privacy’ (145). She also notes that this emerges from a:
social-psychological condition… the extremely high value modern Western humans in general, but Americans in particular, seem to place on intimate (read, “authentic”) relationships. … Richard Sennett has long argued not only that there is such a preference but that it leads to a dismissal of more impersonal public–and even parochial–relationships… (145)
This hierarchization of relationships — something that so fascinates me because I think I have been just as guilty without thinking about it — is key in making growing privatism possible. Lofland argues that it connects to consistent feelings of fear and loathing of streets and the way they are filled with strangers — and that this is what is driving the many attempts to control public space so visible in both our histories and in our present. While difficult to prove how this connection works, Lofland argues that there seems to be something connecting anti-urbanism and privatism, the built environment and people’s feelings.
This leads into a discussing of ‘Control by Design’ or the way architecture is used to control (or destroy) the public realm — a lot of work has been done on this since she was writing, I think, but this is still so insightful, drawing on the already existing wealth in literature (as of 1998) about how to control people and access to public spaces — particularly the poor and the ‘other’. Lofland describes 4 conditions that she believes must be met before
…genuine control of the public realm can be accomplished architecturally: First, a specific set of political, economic, and legal arrangements must be in place and accompanied by, second, cultural attitudes that support, third, a large number of construction projects that are, fourth, large in scale. (193)
All of these brought together could be able to control or purify the public realm. A lot. But they have come together in the dream of what Lofland calls the “private city” as described by Le Corbusier, visible in Brasilia, or the Barbican. Present in the massive building of suburbs in the US. Why did I never encounter this before in literature of the suburbs? She looks at the five critical deign elements:
Megamononeighborhoods (200) – specialized and segregated land use, sprawling suburbs that may have public spaces in them, but Lofland notes few qualify as public realm. Strangers have no reason to go there, and are actively discouraged
Autoresidences (201) – characteristic of the megamononeighborhood.
…the peculiar fact that a significant proportion of houses built since 1945 have as their dominant feature the prominence of the garage.
Autostreets (201) – made for cars, discourage walking, cycling
Antiparks (203) – the non-residential megamononeighborhood — industrial parks, business parks etc, landscapes without people
Megastructures (204) – interiors full of what Lofland calls counter-locales for control of people using the space, but in the larger city they work to ‘reduce, destroy or inhibit, the creation of street life outside its walls.’ (204)
Lofland uses this image — Sketch of ‘Radiant City’ from Le Corbusier (1929) to illustrate exactly what she means. I have always found Le Corbusier chilling…
Lofland brings more concepts to the fore — what she calls ‘sanitary design’ and the counterlocale. Earlier she defined locales as bounded nonprivate space where people were likely not to know each other. I love her definition of counterlocale (though more terminology always makes me worry):
locales to which both entry and behavior are monitored and controlled so as to reduce the possibility for discomforting, annoying, or threatening interactions. … counterlocales are “purified” or “sanitized” locales. (209)
This is such a familiar kind of space. She continues
Again, it took the massive postwar building program in the United States to transform a weak and insignificant strategy for taming the public realm into a colossus. (209)
She then defines four principal mechanisms to ‘rehabilitate’ spaces (for evil), or make them counterlocales:
Privatization. Growth of megastructures has ensured ‘what was once permeable has become impermeable. Once inside the megastructure, the individual is fully in privately owned space…’ (210-211)
Shadow Privatization. (211) Through public-private partnerships, where public space given under some level of private control, or in return for some kind of subsidy, private spaces are opened to some degree to the public. BIDs an example of the first, privately owned plazas made semi-public an example of the second. Some of these made deliberately uninviting to discourage use.
The “Panopticon” Approach. The use of surveillance.
The “Hideaway” Approach. (214) Where ‘public’ plazas are tucked away and hidden, like in LA above the main streets, surrounded by imposing high rise offices.
Then there is camouflaged control — Disneyland kind of spaces, mall spaces.
All so familiar. All things I have studied, but wish I had found this earlier, as it is so helpful thinking about this historical context and the difference between public realm and public space, as well the role (and fear) of strangers.
To end, something that surprised me though it shouldn’t have, her discussion of just how many sociologists have fought the idea that space has any impact on society. Very curious indeed to me, but a wealth of citations. I think ‘the spatial turn’ has changed all that, but it seems worth remembering.
The second among a series of posts on Lyn Lofland’s The Public Realm (part 1 is here) — packed so full of food for thought I don’t even know how many courses this meal will be. I just don’t know where I have been for this ongoing sociological discussion on how we inhabit public spaces. Maybe the room next door. Maybe the wrong side of the tracks. So you’ll forgive me if I catch up a bit through Lofland’s work…
We return to the nature of our interactions in human space, and Lofland’s rebuttal of what she calls the ‘stimulus overload’ arguments of Simmel (read about those here) and Wirth (coming soon). We return to her favourite quartet of Gregory Stone, Jane Jacobs, Erving Goffman and William Whyte, who countered these arguments by showing the rich interactional life happening in cities. Lofland argues:
… public realm interaction is patterned because, far from “shutting down,” persons in urban space appear to be paying careful attention to what I shall here conceive of as “principles of stranger interaction.” (27)
She gives five such principles, which I have enjoyed pondering as I move about public spaces (and realms):
(1) cooperative motility — ‘strangers work together to traverse space without incident…’ (29) The dance noted by Jacobs. ‘Most of the time our movement through the public realm is simply uneventful, and it is so because humans are cooperating with one another to make it so.’
(2) civil inattention
There is, to me, a mightily perceptive quote from Erving Goffman on race, class, age, disability as exceptions to civil inattention…
for example, the “hate stare” that a Southern white sometimes gratuitously gives to Negroes walking past him. It is also possible for one person to treat others as if they were not there at all, as objects not worthy of a glance, let alone close scrutiny… Here we have “nonperson” treatment, in may be seen in our society in the way we sometime treat children, servants, Negroes and mental patients. Currently in our society, this kind of treatment is to be contrasted with the kind generally felt to be more proper in most situations, which will here be called “civil inattention.” (1963a, p29)
Civil inattention suggests that when humans in the public realm appear to ignore one another, they do so not out of psychological distress but out of a ritual regard, and their response is not the asocial one of “shut down” but the fully social one of politeness. (30)
This distinction between civil inattention and dismissal is such an important one, such a slippery one, it’s something I want to come back to.
(3) audience role prominence
An interesting quote of Suzanne and Henry Lennard’s Public Life in Urban Spaces:
Successful public places accentuate the dramatic qualities of personal and family life. They make visible certain tragic, comic and tender aspects of relationships among friends, neighbors, relatives or lovers. They also provide settings for a gamut of human activities. (1984:21-22, p 31)
(4) restrained helpfulness
…requests for mundane assistance and positive responses to those requests are the mundane “stuff” of everyday stranger encounters — so unremarkable that in many studies they are not even mentioned or mentioned only in passing. (32)
(5) civility toward diversity
One of the more interesting aspects of this principle is that it seems to excite remark only in its breach…Only the very few instances of observed incivility made it into my notes.
Interesting how the idea of realms impacts this:
Where the boundaries between the three realms are unclear or disputed or, even more simply, at border points between them, ruptures in the moral order are not only possible but are, under some conditions, probable. (33)
So… Unlike Wirth or Simmel, Lofland writes
Far from being a given, the absence of verbal or visual exchanges must be achieved. In fact and paradoxically, privacy, disattention, and avoidance can only be accomplished by means of principles-guided social interaction. (34)
This provides a strong disincentive for interaction — in polite and meaningful ways that help us all get through the urban tangle every day. What then provides incentive for the opposite in a positive way? The kinds of things you might like to foster as a planner or designer of space?
Lofland lists a few things that ‘either nullify the principles or provide legitimate exceptions to them.’
open persons: individuals who because of subordinate (child, disabled) or occupational (policeman) status or because of situationally specific identities (fellow American in China) are seen as more available for an encounter than others.
open regions: locales (for example drinking establishments, residence lounges of hotels, city streets during carnival, some cafes) in which all the inhabitants are mutually accessible to each other
triangulation: a term introduced by William H. Whyte and defined by him as a “process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to each other as though they were not [strangers]” (39)
Dogs, children, art…those kinds of things. I remember that from his book.
This is perhaps even more interesting:
Finally, the public realm’s governing principles may be employed to express, to create, to re-create, to fabricate, or to refashion societal or regional or local systems of equality and inequality…. we need to understand that the principles themselves are instruments for communicating equality. To use them is to proffer to surrounding strangers the gift of what Goffman called “ritual deference.” (39)
In sum, to give other ritual deference via the principles implies that one understands them to possess a basic level of humanness… (40)
This means, of course, that the opposite is also true, ‘that their violation or misapplications are effective in perpetuating systems of inequality.‘ (40) This goes back to that distinction between civil inattention and either the hate stares or not giving people the respect of your attention. It is why I find this such an interesting thing to study and think about in terms of emancipatory practice both in planning and in everyday life…
To shift gears just a little though, the next chapter (The Relational Web in Public spaces: Persons, Places, Connections) contains a good summary of existing literature on the kinds of interactions taking place in public space (though it leaves aside the above question for the most part). Lofland writes:
As a social territory, the public realm is not merely the locus of rule-guided interactions, it is also the locus of a complex web of relationships. Some of these, of course, are created and have their anchorage in the private or parochial realms, as when lovers attend the theater of neighbours sit in the park. To understand what goes on in public realm space requires that we be sensitive to the presence, frequency, and spacial magnitude of such nonpublic relational forms. (51)
We need new vocabularies for relationship types, here are her suggestions:
Fleeting relationships: most representative in terms of sheer volume, of brief duration between strangers — “Can you tell me the time” etc. (53)
Routinized Relationships: often what sociologists refer to as secondary , she prefers routinized ‘because I want to emphasize the relatively standardized character of the interaction in such relationships — the interaction-as-learned-routine.’ (54) Regular customers at a McDonalds etc…
Both fleeting and routinized relationships are probably most fruitfully analyzed in terms of the interactions they produce. Viewed as relationships, they are too brief and/or too standardized to be of any sustained sociological interest. But both are capable of transformation… (55)
created by relatively brief encounters (a few minutes to several hours) between strangers or between those who are categorically known to one another. (55)
Chat between dog-owners for example.
… unlike quasi-primary relationships, they are relatively long-lasting: running the gamut from from a duration of weeks or months to one of many years. Anyone who has done observations in public spaces…has most certainly encountered relationships of this sort, for example, among elderly persons who congregate in and enjoy encounters with the other customers of “downtown” restaurants… (56-57)
There exists a great relational fluidity — it is important to remember that these relationships are fluid, can move and change between between these forms, and not necessarily in a straightforward progression.
Lofland argues (and I have found this myself) that much sociological literature puts primary relationships before secondary, it makes the moral judgement that they are ‘best’. I think that is almost intuitive, at least for me as this makes me pause to examine my own understandings. Interestingly this has been challenged, and I think rightly. Lofland looks at Ray Oldenburg’s (1989) work on ‘the third place’ – “a generic designation for a great variety of public places that host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of work and home.” She looks at Sennet’s The Uses of Disorder (1970), and The Fall of the Public Man (1977). All of course arguing that public places matter, these encounters matter and alongside deeper relationships they are important for how we relate to both society and place.
There is more in here as well around ‘place’ as opposed to ‘space’, building on Edward Relph (1976) and Yi-Fu Tuan (1977), Lofland writes:
Places are especially meaningful spaces, rich in associations and steeped in sentiment. (64)
For many, (see Firey (1945), Herbert Gans writing about the urban village, Marc Fried’s (1963) work on displaced) place was private or parochial space, but Relph and Yi-Fu Tuan have opened up this feeling of meaning as it is also applied to public realms.
‘Towards a language of Public Realm Space” works to connect some of these ideas to the built environment and space. It tries to find a way to better study and understand
person-to-place connection in its own right and not simply to subsume it as a by-product of human-to-human involvements. (65)
Lofland looks at three different connections in this effort:
Memorized Locales: …small pieces of the public realm that, because of events that happened and/ or because of some object (e.g. a statue) that resides within them, take on, for some set of person, the aura of “sacred places” (65)
This is not so much in a religious sense, as in the way it holds importance — for example a ‘gay monument’ in Amsterdam.
Familiarized Locales: Paths/Rounds/Ranges: …refers to locales that persons encounter or move through on a daily or nearly daily basis and with which they establish a familiar relationship … makes possible the repeated fleeting relationships that transform strangers into “familiar strangers” … but even in the absence of these human links, the physical objects that compose and are visible…can come, with repeated exposure, to seem like old friends. (66)
Hangouts and Home Territories:
This builds on Marvin Scott (1967), arguing they are
…areas where the regular participants have a relative freedom of behavior and a sense of intimacy and control over the area. (69)
These can be public spaces, so in any public space, there may be multiple kinds of use occurring from those occupying it as a home territory to complete strangers and everyone in between. Thus the same space in the same moment of time can have varying feelings of place to different people present.
And of course, all of this sits within a larger context of life and space. The possibilities for different kind of relational webs within spaces depends on larger frameworks — the very different relationships to public space that the medieval city dweller had for example, but also the differences in relationship to space that might depend on other factors such as race or nationality.
There is just so much to think about here, and I am not yet done.
[Lofland, Lyn H. (1998) The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. New York: Aldine de Gruyter)
Lyn Lofland’s The Public Realm has been a fairly transformative book in how I think about space, I am unsure how it had never come my way before reviewing a book on mobilities containing some wonderful ethnographies of space, but I think it shows how powerful academic silos continue to be. It is packed full of insight, so this is a first post of several — too many, because much of what she discusses here honestly has not come my way before quite like this.
It is a critique of those theorists who have found the city to be most worthy of critique — like Wirth, Miller, Simmel — to build upon those who have sought to understand what makes it work, what makes cities the places of choice for so many to live. Her favourites are Gregory Stone, Jane Jacobs, Erving Goffman, and William H Whyte (and this reminds me I have to get round to reading City: Rediscovering the Center).
She starts with some definitions – and it occurs to me that maybe I don’t do this enough. How do you defining a city? For Wirth, it is a ‘large, dense and heterogenous’ settlement (5). Lofland shifts this lightly, to define it as
a permanently populous place or settlement.’ … using “place” loosely and imprecisely enough that it is allowed to cover both those large, dense, and heterogenous settlements—past and present—that are visually distinct from their surroundings and those jumbles of variously sized settlements that are woven together into the urban blankets the U.S. Census Bureau calls “metropolitan statistical areas.” (7)
She is is also very interested in the stranger — ‘a person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance.’ (7) She notes that this is different than many other texts on the city, where stranger means a cultural ‘other’, this is a curious distinction — the more curious the more I think about it. It assumes that at some level, someone of your own skin colour and culture is not a stranger, that you have more in common by definition than you might with the cultural ‘other’. In my own experience this has been far from true, I hope soon we may reach a point where this is not the automatic default.
From the city, she moves on to define public space – starting with a general dictionary definition: space which is open to all persons, in contrast to private space which is not open or accessible to the general public. Again, she shifts it slightly to look at the public realm instead, which is such a much more interesting concept really. A first take on it, is that it is:
constituted of those areas of urban settlements in which individuals in copresence tend to be personally unknown or only categorically known to one another. (9)
I love this thinking about ‘realms’ rather than simple spaces, realms are able to have boundaries of a more ‘protean nature’. They can overlap, coexist in the same space, grow or shrink or disappear. Lofland looks at three — the public, the private, and the parochial realms. Drawing on Albert Hunter (who I have not read), she defines private realm as (and italics are all in her original):
characterized by ties of intimacy among primary groups members who are located within households and personal networks…
She defines the parochial realm as:
characterized by a sense of commonality among acquaintances and neighbors who are involved in interpersonal networks that are located “within” communities.” (10)
what Hunter’s triadic distinctions allow us to see in addition is that cities are the most complex of settlement forms because they are the only settlement form that routinely and persistently contains all three realms. (10)
Now that is a really interesting way to think about cities and their definition, as well as what they make possible. Also interesting is how these distinctions permeate space rather than remain bounded by it. Lofland writes:
realms are not geographically or physically rooted pieces of space. They are social, not physical territories. Whether any actual physical space contains a realm at all and, if it does, whether that realm is private, is parochial, or is public is not the consequence of some immutable culturally or legally given designation (claiming, for example, this street is public space, this yard is private space). It is, rather, the consequence of the proportions and densities of relationship types present and these proportions and densities are themselves fluid. (11)
an empty public park has no realm… in a small city with a stable population and a very high “density of acquaintanceship” (Freudenberg 1986), what the outside observer might quite reasonably take to be public space (streets, parks, and so forth) may, in fact, be almost totally within the parochial realm. (12)
and also, therefore
the possibility that social territories or realms may, in general, be “out of place.” That is…if we extend his definitions just a bit [Anselm Strauss 1961] and define locations as “bounded” or identifiable portions of nonprivate space dominated by communal relationships (a neighborhood bar is an example) and locales as “bounded” or identifiable portions of nonprivate space dominated by stranger or categorical relations (an airport terminal, for example), then we can note that while locations may be said to be naturally “at home” when surrounded by parochial space, and locales when surrounded by public space, both are quite capable of taking up reisdence in alien spaces.
I love this, it gets to the nuances of spaces and how we inhabit them. It is flexible enough to sense different kinds of spatial inhabitations:
But if a group is large enough, it can … transform the character of a substantial portion of the space within which it is located. (13)
And how these shift in complicated ways:
Whether a specific place or space is considered private, parochial, or public is often a matter of conflict and/or negotiation. And spaces have histories. Even those that are consensually defined at one time may be redefined or subject to warring definitions at another time. (14)
…we need to face the discomforting fact that not only are realms unrooted, but their boundaries are protean, mercurial.
Of course, there is some connection between physical space and relational forms:
private realm — intimate physical space
parochial realm — some physical space is communal
public realm — some physical space is stranger or categorical (14)
I love — of course — how she then goes on to contextualise this in the historical development of cities. It very much echoes Sitte funnily enough:
…in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Britain and northern Europe (and later throughout the rest of the world), the Industrial Revolution wrought a critical shift in the relationships between private, parochial, and public realms.
… a cardinal characteristic of cities prior to the eighteenth century — wherever they were located — was that a significant portion of their social life occurred in the public realm. That is, social life and public life overlapped in the preindustrual city to a remarkable degree… (15)
I am still getting my head around this because actually it is so hard to imagine sitting in a comfortable home so far removed from this daily reality. One of the reasons why I love literature. Everyone but elites walked everywhere (this struck me so much reading Dickens for example). Also it was in the public realm that women once secured the water for the household, disposed of garbage and body waste (the public realm consisted of outhouses at best…lovely thought). At the same time private space was cold, damp, crowded, uncomfortable…
For many people to be in the public realm was to be warm instead of cold, cool, instead of hot. It was to breath air–however bad–less fetid that the air of one’s private quarters. It was to move into space — however teeming with people — less cramped than home. In sum, the preindustrial city was overwhelmingly a city characterized by the dominance of public life. (16-17)
So along with the relations of labour, the Industrial Revolution also changed so much about the city itself, Lofland argues that through it:
…new possibilities for enlarging and strengthening the city’s private and parochial realms emerged. (17)
Somehow it seems intuitively I had been assuming the opposite without analysing it. Lofland notes the two principal characteristics, which form this change:
(1) innovations in forms of transport allowed this city to be much larger in area than its preindustrial ancestor… and (2) innovations in construction and communication allowed this city to enclose many more activities than had cities of the past. To put it briefly, these two characteristics — enlargement and enclosure — together made possible the separation of workplace from place of residence, made possible the development of highly specialized and large workplaces … made possible the development of homogeneous and large areas of residence (e.g. working-class neighborhoods), made possible the siting of much round-of-life activity within the place of residence or neighborhood, and eventually, with the…automobile, made it possible for an individual to connect pieces of widely dispersed space without the necessity of actually being, in any socially meaningful sense, in the intervening spaces. … it became possible for large numbers … to spend significant portions of their lives entirely in the private and/ or parochial realms. (17-18)
So much to think about here, and it is only the first few pages, so more is forthcoming.
[Lofland, Lyn H. (1998) The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory. New York: Aldine de Gruyter)
Part 2 on Urban Sprawl and Public Health looks at potential interventions and theories that can help reduce the impact of sprawl (read part 1 here). For authors Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank, and Richard Jackson, hope lies in the new strategies being put forth under the terms Smart Growth and New Urbanism, arguing for Smart Growth at least as a public health strategy. I have a lot of issues with New Urbanism and Smart Growth as they are so often removed from issues of equity and spatial justice, but it’s interesting to think of how to rebuild and rework our cities as part of a plan around improving health.
They trace a lineage of people working on the connections between health and cities — Dr. John Henry Rauch (1828-1894) in Chicago arguing for land use policies to improve public health, cemeteries at a remove from dense neighborhoods being one of them. Frederick Law Olmstead, and garden cities. Edwin Chadwick working sanitary regulations, housing standards, public water and sewage systems in the UK, Thomas McKeown at Birmingham, who
showed that many of the health advances of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries resulted not from better medical care, but from ‘upstream’ improvements such as better urban infrastructure–better housing, neighborhoods, water, food, and transport. (203)
They also name psychiatrist Leonard Duhl, who has looked at connecting mental health with urban design and community involvement. His ideas have been broadened by physician Trevor Hancock. In 1987, the World Health Organization jumped on the bandwagon, initiating a Healthy Cities Network, which I confess I had never heard of.
There are of course many who could be added to this list, and in the UK at least you have the Marmot Review among others, trying to move health care providers to think more broadly about wellness and how it connects to social and environmental factors.
So…to return to the strategies they promote, we start with Smart Growth. The Environmental Protection Agency itself formed the Smart Growth Network in 1996 together with a number of other nonprofits and governmental organizations. The Networks’ ten Smart growth principles (the whole document ‘Getting to Smart Growth: 100 Policies for Implementation’ can be found here):
1. Mix land uses
2. Take advantage of compact building design
3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
4. Create walkable neighborhoods
5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
9. Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective
10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
The book goes on to give a more elaborate set of principles in full…they’re interesting, so I do the same — the full text can be found here:
All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of transit stops.
A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
Each community or cluster of communities should have a well defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high-speed traffic.
Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought tolerant landscaping and recycling.
The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.
The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than freeways.
Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.
The general plan should be updated to incorporate the above principles.
Rather than allowing developer-initiated, piecemeal development, local governments should take charge of the planning process. General plans should designate where new growth, infill or redevelopment will be allowed to occur.
Prior to any development, a specific plan should be prepared based on the planning principles. With the adoption of specific plans, complying projects could proceed with minimal delay.
Plans should be developed through an open process and participants in the process should be provided visual models of all planning proposals.
Of course, in years of community work around development, I have never seen anything actually work like this.
walkable neighborhoods, a range of housing choices, a mix of land uses, participatory planning, revitalization of urban neighborhoods (206)
They talk about some of the critiques. They come from wildly different directions…
the public doesn’t want it
it limits consumer choice — it’s a form of coercive social engineering
can exacerbate traffic congestion by creating greater density
smart growth projects are isolated enclaves, not integrated
encourage gentrification (213)
Then go on to look at a public health approach to Smart Growth. It’s a very different perspective though concerned with all of the same things. They begin with constructing a community health assessment — paralleling the medical assessment. One method they believe has great promise is the Health impact Assessment, as a way to measure the health benefits from a Smart Growth approach. Nor is it surprising that many of the potential indicators would be the same as for sustainability — transit ridership, percentage of population living within ten minutes of a park, incidence of asthma, extent of recycling. (217) A few useful checklists exist already that could serve, one is the Built Environment Site Survey Checklist in London (this is news to me, this BESSC).(218)
I like how numerous things are coming together — concerns for the health of individuals and communities and neighbourhoods, issues of sustainability and the health of the land and environment. I think, again, there’s a lot more to think about in terms of equity. People’s own power in the process is always the first thing to go — if it ever was on the table. The cold hard facts of development and politics are not amenable to such things, so progress has been made where it helps certain kinds of development become more marketable. But criticism to come…
Urban Sprawl and Public Health — a great book! It was amazing to see urban planning and public health brought together in this way — a solid primer on both for each, along with a plea for professionals to start working together to fix this. Because sprawl is killing us.
I myself would throw in a soupçon of sociologists and geographers and community organizers to the health and planning mix as well, because what was missing? More analysis on the nature of development and how the drive for profit drives this urban form, more analysis on the struggle of everyday people to fight for and against some of these dynamics, and the ways in which race and land have long been linked (but there is more of this second aspect than in many another book). Still, despite these critiques, I confess that few things get me going the way that talking about the city and health in the same book do.
Health & Sprawl facts:
In the last 15 years, the US has developed 25% of all the land developed in the past 225 years of its official existence. (xii)
Between 1960 and 2000, average American’s yearly driving more than doubled — 4,000 to nearly 10,000 miles per years. “rush hour” spread over seven, not 4 and a half, average driver’s time spent stuck in traffic each year: 6 to 36 hours in Dallas, 1 to 28 hours in Minneapolis, 6 to 34 in Atlanta. (xiii)
Sprawl — a term from William H. Whyte! Did I know that? He wrote an article for Fortune in January 1958, titled ‘Urban Sprawl’. There are a variety of definitions and measurements of sprawl, here they follow those that incorporate both land use and transportation as intrinsic. They focus on four main aspects — density, land use mix, automobile dependence and connectivity (or how destinations are linked through transportation systems (7). (5)
I particularly like how much they use illustrations, this is a good one:
I also liked the ‘transect’ — a look at the continuum between sprawl and compact neighbourhoods (16)
Chapter 2 looks at the origins of sprawl, and it is based almost in its entirety on Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier. So it summarizes the multiple factors that have lead to spraw, and it is a very long list. He heads it with the pull of the suburbs and the (European) cultural values Jackson believed underlay that pull — domesticity, privacy and isolation (28). In addition you have land ownership as a mark of wealth and status, alongside (partly driving perhaps, but I’m a cynic that this drove development rather than sales) a love of land itself and antipathy toward cities. (29) The Garden City movement feeds into this, embodied by Frederick Law Olmstead, along with the new technologies and construction methods and lots of cheap land (no mention of conquest here of course). There is a little here on the willingness of cities to spend taxes on providing infrastructure like roads and sewers — directly subsidising this kind of development as opposed to improving older neighbourhoods or public housing. The rise of the automobile and destruction of public transportation. The rise of zoning. The HOLC and the FHA, federal policy and money going towards new housing for whites (I do wish, though, that they had read Freund).
Still, I like the simplicity of their conclusions though:
Sprawl, as we know it today, appears deceptively chaotic. In fact, it is a highly ordered and predictable form of development. An edifice of public and private instruments erected over the past three-quaters of a century reinforces and extends sprawl. (42)
There is a little on financing here, and that real estate financing now works on an expectation of profits within 5-7 years — more built-in obsoleteness. I wish they had connected this to Harvey’s ‘spatial fix’ but that’s complex I guess. This is my field though, and this is a good summary.
Urban health is not my field, though I have a good deal of practical organising experience on the subject.
Frumkin et al compare the evolution of urban health with public health through ‘epidemiologic transition’ — and these titles really do inspire the SF writer side of my brain: The Age of Pestilence and Famine, The Age of Receding Pandemics, and where we are now: The Age of Degenerative and Man-Made Diseases. In cities, infectious diseases once dominated, but sanitary infrastructure ended that to a great extent. But industrialisation introduced pollution, and mental health and violence are not forgotten here, with growth in poverty, social dislocation and crime. (45)
From a public health perspective, the critical problems that grew as cities did were: garbage, commercial activity (tanning and other nasty things), sewage, water, air, and housing. (46)
An interesting aside:
In New York, Assemblyman Aaron Burr [founding father and profiteer] obtained a charter for the Manhattan Company, a private firm that was to hold a monopoly on piped water for the next quarter of a century. (51)
Privatised water is nothing new. Nor are the images from Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives. My family for example, hanging out with the other half in Pittsburgh, probably looked much like this, though they were never in this particular alley.
The Results: A Plethora of Infections
Their heading, not mine. I had not read of the yellow fever epidemics that swept through Washington D.C. — as President Washington fled in 1793 leaving over 5,000 dead, or over ten percent of the city’s population. (55)
The book quotes a citizen group in Philly writing:
if the fever shall become an annual visitant, our cities must be abandoned, commerce will desert our coasts, and we, the citizens of this great metropolis, shall all of us, suffer much distress, and a great proportion of us be reduced to absolute ruin. (56)
Cholera, Typhoid…Cities in these early days were ‘incubators of infectious disease’ (57)
Now this is Pittsburgh just as my great-grandparents were arriving:
But slowly this would change…
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as sanitary challenges were met and as industrial pollution was managed, the toxicity of cities–the factors that most threatened residents’ health and well-being and even helped drive migration out of the cities–came overwhelmingly to revolve around social circumstances. (61)
The heading for this section is ‘The Social Pathology of City Life’. (61)
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as sanitary challenges were met and as industrial pollution was managed, the toxicity of cities–the factors that most threatened residents’ health and well-being and even helped drive migration out of the cities–came overwhelmingly to revolve around social circumstances. (61)
The urban crisis — it is interesting, perhaps a little troubling how the social is here linked with the epidemiological, but I am often troubled by the public health gaze at poverty. Foucault was too, so I’m in good company. The book here notes the riots of the Red Summer of 1919 — yet it doesn’t distinguish these horrifying white killing sprees where literally hundreds of people were murdered with ‘riots’, what inhabitants themselves described as ‘uprisings’ in protest of police brutality and living condition in Watts in 1965, LA again in 1992 and etc (62).
It is interesting to consider the ‘urban health penalty’, however:
a complex of environmental conditions such as deteriorating housing, inadequate access to nutritional food, and scant medical care, and health consequences such as untreated hypertension, cardiocasvualr disease, intentionala dn unintentional injuries, and infectious diseases. (63)
Interesting to read of a 1990 article in New England Journal of Medicine showing that men in Harlem had lower life expectencies than in Bangladesh.* They write:
A literature of urban health arose, focusing on these conditions and how to provide health care to the victims. (63)
From here on to the nitty gritty.
I like this chart:
‘As the model illustrates, land use patterns affect each category of athropogenic emmissions–their location, their quantity, their dispersion in the air, and how people are exposed. (66)
And a summary of what air quality means for health:
Air pollution threatens human health in four principal ways. The two most important are by increasing mortality and by threatening respiratory health. In addition, air pollution can damage cardiovascular function and increase cancer risk. There is evidence for some other health effects as well. (80)
The ‘epidemic’ of obesity must be well known to anyone doing community work, or even who just reads the paper.
Being overweight is itself a well-established risk factor for a number of diseases. people who are overweight die at as much as 2.5 times the rate of non-obese people, and an estimated 300,000 Americans die preventable deaths each year as the result of being obese. (96)
So sprawl obviously has some share of this, creating environments where no one walks. Where it is dangerous to walk even if you wanted to, and there were somewhere to go. What features of the environment help people become more active?
Frank, Engelke and Schmid** identify three dimensions of the built environment…. land use patterns, design characteristics and transportation systems. (99)
Pikora et al*** expand on this, primarily in area of design — functional factors, safety factors, aesthetic factors and destination factors. So — a mix of different land uses, availability of sidewalks and footpaths, enjoyable scenery, the presence of other people in the space being physically active, safety.
Fucking rocket science, this is.
Injuries and Deaths from Traffic
Holy Jesus, this will make you never want to get in a car again. Over 40,000 people a year die by automobile. (110)
Water Quantity and Quality
So, you got your microbial contamination of water, your chemical contamination. You have your water scarcity. Sprawl affects all of these — thus the section titled ‘The Hydrology of Sprawl’. The rain falls, it percolates through foliage, roots and soil — cleansing itself as it does — to recharge groundwater and the water table. About half of us drink water from surface sources, and the other half from groundwater. My family drank from groundwater once, now we’re on a list, because it was contaminated. But that’s a longer story.
Forested areas are best at capturing and cleaning water, paved streets and rooftops, as you can imagine, fail completely. It all becomes chemical and pollutant-rich run-off. They give a view of what development’s effect is on this process:
The stormwater runoff from suburban development contributes to microbial contamination as it ‘includes large loads of waste from pets and wildlife and nutrients from such sources as fertilizers’. Heavy runoff also carries sediment, these can protect dangerous bacteria like giardia as they sit in filters and drains. And then you have your further suburbs using wells and their own septic systems. The final way is unexpected — the continued growth of suburbs means the focus is on building new infrastructure, not repairing and cleaning out the old, which desperately need it. So our own pipes and things are poisoning us.
The chemical contamination is more obvious I think, all the toxic things we uses every day as well as those deposited by cars and exuded by factories all get swept into the water supply as well.
this is good to see here, I think it is left off of such analyses far too often. They remind us that sprawl is partly caused by a desire to get away from the city, into nature, into all that is good for mental health. Yet this is only one aspect of the suburbs — possibly offset by highways, sameness, box stores, speed, large scales, and just the amount of time people spend driving.
There is a whole of information on just how bad for us driving is. How it increases stress, makes us angrier. Studies on road rage. All of these things could, most likely do, contribute to morbidity.
This comes from community. They define such a sense of community as a
“feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”**** There are four aspects of this sense of community: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. (161)
They look at the many ways community psychologists, human ecologists, and sociologists have talked about community and social capital, but much of it is based on Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, so I won’t go on too much more here except for the ways it affects health. I’ll be dealing with Putnam too. Everyone quotes him.
Research has focused on two broad aspects of the social environment: structural features and social support. Structurally, people look at the density of relationships and extent of social networks. Social support is described as the the amount of emotional support (and other kinds?) in times of need (166. In a nutshell: People with strong social networks live longer. Lots of studies confirm it (you can see the Marmot Review on the UK). (166) The same correlations hold true for social capital.
Sprawl, on the other hand, tends to to diminish both networks and capital in several ways:
Cars have much to do with this, the amount of time people spend driving restricts free time for civic engagement.
sprawl ‘reduces opportunities for spontaneous, informal social interactions’ (173)
‘sprawl privatizes the public realm’, people who spend all their time at home don’t value public space, green space, suburban voters almost always vote to limit government programs with social goals or for public transportation
sprawl divides people into homogenous communities.
sprawl disrupts continuity of life as people age — can’t move into smaller house in the same neighbourhood (173)
1998 report from the Transit cooperative Research program found that ‘sprawl weakens households’ connection both to their immediate neighbors and to the larger metropolitan community. (174)
But it turns out that some sprawl better than others — the built environment and design can affects this, so there is some hope. But this first post is on all that is wrong, the second on what can be made right…
Health Concerns of Special Populations
I do like that there is focused attention on how sprawl impacts different groups, acknowledging that the costs of it are not even. There is a long list…Given that women are usually doing most of daily chores and chauffeuring of kids, the burden falls disproportionately upon them.
Children breath more rapidly, have narrower airways — thus pollution has much more impact on them than on adults. The lack of physical activity affects them more — and yet when they are physically active in polluted areas, it is more dangerous for them. Part of childhood is exploration of the world and the self away from parents — yet we have built spaces where that is not safe, impacting the mental health and development of kids. They are isolated, and don’t have the wealth of networks and adults watching out for them that a health community might have.
The elderly, too, are severely impacted. Communities that aren’t walkable require cars — so people drive long past the time they should not. Elders are isolated, unable to exercise, unable to have meaningful connections that improve their health and quality of life. This is often also true for those who are disabled. How dare we create cities without sidewalks.
Then, of course, there are the poor and people of colour. A reprise here for HOLC and FHA regulations, the racism that confined people into inner cities (I don’t think they quite realise how prevalent this continues to be). The steady concentration of poverty and its related health impacts in areas of higher pollution. The disparities of race in class so visible in health and morbidity statistics.
The connections are multiple and strongly evidenced. Enraging really. I like that they don’t stop there, but include a final chapter on possibilities for changing our cities and our future. That will follow in the next post.
*McCord C., Freeman, H. Excess mortality in Harlem. New England Journal of Medicine 1990; 322: 173-179.
**Frank, Engelke and Schmid (2003) Health and Community Design: How Urban Form Impacts Physical Activity, Washington D.C.: Island Press.
*** Pikora, T et al (2003) Developing a framework for assessment of the environmental determinants of walking and cycling. Social Science and Medicine 56: 1693-1703
I am finally getting around to reading Georg Simmel’s (1858-1918) sociological and urban classic ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ (download here) on the relationship between the city and the people within it. As per usual in reading the classic, most of what you thought you knew you didn’t know at all, and it manages to surprise you. This short essay packs quite an intellectual punch as well, connecting space and population density with economics with human striving and human behaviour in ways that many others never manage, even with the benefit of building on such work that does.
The deepest problems of modern life flow from the attempt of the individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life. (11)
I keep turning these things over in my mind, especially in relation to the things I have been thinking and reading that celebrate our connections to land, to culture, to community. Simmel’s celebration of individuality emerges from such a specific European, male, steeped-in-a-certain-tradition kind of place. This place:
The eighteenth century may have called for liberation from all the ties which grew up historically in politics, in religion, in morality and in economics in order to permit the original natural virtue of man, which is equal in everyone, to develop without inhibition; the nineteenth century may have sought to promote, in addition to man’s freedom, his individuality (which is connected with the division of labour) and his achievements which make him unique and indispensable but which at the same time make him so much the more dependent on the complementary activity of others … in each of these the same fundamental motive was at work, namely the resistance of the individual to being levelled, swallowed up in the social-technological mechanism. (11)
This comparison makes even more salient Simmel’s focus on the difference between the city and the countryside, even more interesting that he should make newness and change the foundation of intellect as opposed to tradition and emotion:
The psychological foundation, upon which the metropolitan individuality is erected, is the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli. … To the extent that the metropolis creates these psychological conditions — with every crossing of the street, with the tempo and multiplicity of economic, occupational and social life — it creates in the sensory foundations of mental life, and in the degree of awareness necessitated by our organization as creatures dependent on differences, a deep contrast with the slower, more habitual, more smoothly flowing rhythm of the sensory-mental phase of small town and rural existence. Thereby the essentially intellectualistic character of the mental life of the metropolis becomes intelligible as over against that of the small town which rests more on feelings and emotional relationships. These latter are rooted in the unconscious levels of the mind and develop most readily in the steady equilibrium of unbroken customs. The locus of reason, on the other hand, is in the lucid, conscious upper strata of the mind and it is the most adaptable of our inner forces (11-12)
Fascinating, too, that this translates for Simmel into pure intellectuality, and thus an instrumentality that facilitates a money economy and capitalism itself.
This intellectualistic quality which is thus recognized as a protection of the inner life against the domination of the metropolis, becomes ramified into numerous specific phenomena…. money economy and the domination of the intellect stand in the closest relationship to one another. They have in common a purely matter-of-fact attitude in the treatment of persons and things in which a formal justice is often combined with an unrelenting hardness. The purely intellectualistic person is indifferent to all things personal…
There are at least two things going on here, I think. The first is the way that the form and crowdedness of the city is both ’cause and effect’ of a certain abstraction and the impersonal relationships of the money economy:
In certain apparently insignificant characters or traits of the most external aspects of life are to be found a number of characteristic mental tendencies. The modern mind has become more and more a calculating one. The calculating exactness of practical life which has resulted from a money economy corresponds to the ideal of natural science, namely that of transforming the world into an arithmetical problem and of fixing every one of its parts in a mathematical formula. It has been money economy which has thus filled the daily life of so many people with weighing, calculating, enumerating and the reduction of qualitative values to quantitative terms. … It is, however, the conditions of the metropolis which are cause as well as effect for this essential characteristic. The relationships and concerns of the typical metropolitan resident are so manifold and complex that, especially as a result of the agglomeration of so many persons with such differentiated interests, their relationships and activities intertwine with one another into a many-membered organism.
This organism, by reason of the crowded and always-changing nature of its spatiality, requires an ever greater temporal organisation:
For this reason the technique of metropolitan life in general is not conceivable without all of its activities and reciprocal relationships being organized and coordinated in the most punctual way into a firmly fixed framework of time which transcends all subjective elements … every event, however restricted to this superficial level it may appear, comes immediately into contact with the depths of the soul, and that the most banal externalities are, in the last analysis, bound up with the final decisions concerning the meaning and the style of life. Punctuality, calculability and exactness, which are required by the complications and extensiveness of metropolitan life, are not only most intimately connected with its capitalistic and intellectualistic character but also colour the content of life and are conductive to the exclusion of those irrational, instinctive, sovereign human traits and impulses which originally seek to determine the form of life from within instead of receiving it from the outside in a general, schematically precise form. (13)
Separate from this, yet connected, is the manner in which the city’s inhabitants protect their own psyche and space. Simmel writes:
There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook. (14)
What does that mean exactly? It’s something I recognise as a city dweller, though I am not sure I agree with this description or analysis:
the blasé attitude — in which the nerves reveal their final possibility of adjusting themselves to the content and the form of metropolitan life by renouncing the response to them. We see that the self preservation of certain types of personalities is obtained at the cost of devaluing the entire objective world, ending inevitably in dragging the personality downward into a feeling of its own valuelessness. Whereas the subject of this form of existence must come to terms with it for himself, his self-preservation in the face of the great city requires of him a no less negative type of social conduct. The mental attitude of the people of the metropolis to one another may be designated formally as one of reserve. If the unceasing external contact of numbers of persons in the city should be met by the same number of inner reactions as in the small town, in which one knows almost every person he meets and to each of whom he has a positive relationship, one would be completely atomized internally and would fall into an unthinkable mental condition. (14-15)
That last sentence is interesting. With so much stimuli you are forced to shut down a little bit, forced to create some kind of shell of indifference. There is a resonance to this that perhaps I am not quite ready to grant to the rest, but it has me thinking in ways I find particularly fruitful:
Combined with this physiological source of the blasé metropolitan attitude there is another, which derives from a money economy. The essence of the blasé attitude is an indifference toward the distinctions between things. … the meaning and the value of the distinctions between things, and therewith of the things themselves, are experienced as meaningless. They appear to the blasé person in a homogeneous, flat and grey colour with no one of them worthy of being preferred to another… the correct subjective reflection of a complete money economy to the extent that money takes the place of all the manifoldness of things and expresses all qualitative distinctions between them in the distinction of how much. To the extent that money, with its colourlessness and its indifferent quality, can become a common denominator of all values, it becomes the frightful leveller — it hollows out the core of things, their peculiarities, their specific values and their uniqueness and incomparability in a way which is beyond repair. (14)
These two in combination, argues Simmel, leads to the particularities of the city resident as the blasé person — though he pushes it further:
Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the inner side of this external reserve is not only indifference but more frequently than we believe, it is a slight aversion, a mutual strangeness and repulsion which, in a close contact which has arisen any way whatever, can break out into hatred and conflict. The entire inner organization of such a type of extended commercial life rests on an extremely varied structure of sympathies, indifferences and aversions of the briefest as well as of the most enduring sort. (15)
It is from this aversion, this purposeful ignoring of others that leads us to move, to look away that creates what many love most about the city:
This reserve with its overtone of concealed aversion appears once more, however, as the form or the wrappings of a much more general psychic trait of the metropolis. It assures the individual of a type and degree of personal freedom to which there is no analogy in other circumstances. (15)
This is in distinction for other kinds of communities, Simmel sees an evolution from small cohesive circles to whom everyone outside is a foreigner to cities. These small, traditional communities he describes as having:
a rigorous setting of boundaries and a centripetal unity and for that reason it cannot give room to freedom and the peculiarities of inner and external development of the individual. (15)
In contrast to such communities, cities provide the needed room for both perception and development of the intellect — though there is a darker side to such freedom:
The mutual reserve and indifference, and the intellectual conditions of life in large social units are never more sharply appreciated in their significance for the independence of the individual than in the dense crowds of the metropolis, because the bodily closeness and lack of space make intellectual distance really perceivable for the first time. It is obviously only the obverse of this freedom that, under certain circumstances, one never feels as lonely and as deserted as in this metropolitan crush of persons. For here, as elsewhere, it is by no means necessary that the freedom of man reflect itself in his emotional life only as a pleasant experience. (16)
This, for Simmel, is the meaning of cosmopolitanism. I term I didn’t know he used, one thrown about a great deal these days.
It is rather in transcending this purely tangible extensiveness that the metropolis also becomes the seat of cosmopolitanism. Comparable with the form of the development of wealth … the individual’s horizon is enlarged.
It is curious the way that Simmel ties this back into the economy — not into its discourses or the way it shapes the mindset and commonsense of everyday life as before, but in its materiality. First, through rent, which he does not explore which frustrates me. Maybe in that massive tome he has written about money there is more:
This may be illustrated by the fact that within the city the `unearned increment’ of ground rent, through a mere increase in traffic, brings to the owner profits which are self-generating. At this point the quantitative aspects of life are transformed qualitatively. (17)
There is something in this, I think, about the freedom that this particular kind of profit gives. But he does not forget nature or labour:
Cities are above all the seat of the most advanced economic division of labour. … The decisive fact here is that in the life of a city, struggle with nature for the means of life is transformed into a conflict with human beings, and the gain which is fought for is granted, not by nature, but by man. (17)
All of this grayness, crowdedness, freedom combines so that:
one seizes on qualitative distinctions, so that … the attention of the social world can, in some way, be won for oneself. This leads ultimately to the strangest eccentricities, to specifically metropolitan extravagances of self-distantiation, of caprice, of fastidiousness, the meaning of which is no longer to be found in the content of such activity itself but rather in its being a form of `being different’ — of making oneself noticeable. For many types of persons these are still the only means of saving for oneself, through the attention gained from others, some sort of self-esteem and the sense of filling a position.
And you have such a brief time to make this impression. This seems only an interesting aside, making me think of all the characters I have known, walked past in their colourful bids for attention and differentiation. Making me think of fashion, our increasing aim to be distinctive and unique within given limits. But Simmel takes it further than that, makes it more interesting when thinking about concrete city spaces.
Here in buildings and in educational institutions, in the wonders and comforts of space-conquering technique, in the formations of social life and in the concrete institutions of the State is to be found such a tremendous richness of crystalizing, de-personalized cultural accomplishments that the personality can, so to speak, scarcely maintain itself in the fact of it. (19)
The idea that human beings are actually in competition somehow with the built environment, and the cultural panoply of modern life. This leads to particular kind of person:
When both of these forms of individualism which are nourished by the quantitative relationships of the metropolis, i.e. individual independence and the elaboration of personal peculiarities, are examined with reference to their historical position, the metropolis attains an entirely new value and meaning in the world history of the spirit.
No longer was it the`general human quality’ in every individual but rather his qualitative uniqueness and irreplaceability that now became the criteria of his value. In the conflict and shifting interpretations of these two ways of defining the position of the individual within the totality is to be found the external as well as the internal history of our time. It is the function of the metropolis to make a place for the conflict and for the attempts at unification of both of these in the sense that its own peculiar conditions have been revealed to us as the occasion and the stimulus for the development of both. Thereby they attain a quite unique place, fruitful with an inexhaustible richness of meaning in the development of the mental life. They reveal themselves as one of those great historical structures in which conflicting life-embracing currents find themselves with equal legitimacy. (19)
There is so much packed into this brief essay — only 9 pages. I look forward to coming back to it, and it is definitely the sort of piece brilliant for teaching, as I am sure students would read it in very different ways depending on their experience. This makes me want to return to Weber, Durkheim, the Frankfurt School — there is too little time in life to do everything.
Just two other asides, one on Ruskin and Nietzsche and anti-urban sentiment:
It is in the light of this that we can explain the passionate hatred of personalities like Ruskin and Nietzsche for the metropolis — personalities who found the value of life only in unschematized individual expressions which cannot be reduced to exact equivalents and in whom, on that account, there flowed from the same source as did that hatred, the hatred of the money economy and of the intellectualism of existence.
The second, a delightful commentary on London…
a point which I shall attempt to demonstrate only with the statement of the most outstanding English constitutional historian to the effect that through the entire course of English history London has never acted as the heart of England but often as its intellect and always as its money bag.
[Simmel, Georg (1903) ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ in
Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, eds. The Blackwell City
Reader. Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002.]
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.