The City In History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, And

My first experience reading Lewis Mumford was a collection of his writings for The New Yorker, where he served as architecture critic, and which impressed me by exposing a way of looking at building design which I hadn t even considered before, in a way that was easy to grasp This ease was facilitated by interest, of course if one is immune to the charms of architecture and design, then it s doubtful his essays would appeal The New Yorker essays made me want to read , and I was extrem My first experience reading Lewis Mumford was a collection of his writings for The New Yorker, where he served as architecture critic, and which impressed me by exposing a way of looking at building design which I hadn t even considered before, in a way that was easy to grasp This ease was facilitated by interest, of course if one is immune to the charms of architecture and design, then it s doubtful his essays would appeal The New Yorker essays made me want to read , and I was extremely happy to find a copy of his National Book Award winner The City in History high expectations and anticipation no doubt contributed to much of my later disappointment As the book s subtitle indicates, Mumford traces the origins of the city and describes the changes it underwent up until his own time of the early 60s As it has to be, the origin of the city is based on conjecture Mumford posits a mating of the masculine warrior society with the feminine hunter gatherer village, which begins a cycle of domination where the players may have changed over time, but not the script From the earliest indications of cities to theadvanced form they took in Mesopotamia and Egypt, he describes the structures that enforced entrenched power the citadel, the city s walls, the temple, the palace While this concentration of people in one place set humanity on the road to civilization, it also began to steadily erode the touchstones that made life worth living A section on the early Greek polis delineates how there were opportunities to create a different kind of city and society, though many of the same mistakes crept back in, and ultimately proved too difficult to overcome The Romans, on the other hand, took the worst aspects of the city and doubled down on them by creating an almost unlimited sprawl The apex of city design and living, according to Mumford, came in the Medieval period cities were organized along lines that promoted human interaction they were places where life was worth living.But as soon as the absolute monarchs were able to consolidate their power, the aspects of the citadel returned In what he terms the Baroque design of city, he shows how the purpose was to portray power, regardless of ordinary human occupations Perhaps it might help to picture Versailles at the time of the Sun King meant to display wealth and power, dedicated to the luxury of the few sterile, antiseptic The next step is Coketown , the fictional setting of Hard Times by Dickens here Mumford catalogs the ills of the industrial city and the appalling human toll, when the unregulated despotism of Baroque power is replaced by unregulated capitalism Lastly he leaves us with the mid century situation sprawl and uncontrolled money interests and fear of nuclear devastation What The City in History argues for at every point is a symbiotic relationship between people and the technology they use or are saddled with The very design of most modern cities, he argues, is intended to keep those in power in power, or is a direct result of serving technological and pecuniary interests rather than that of the common man Instead of a technological scale, he emphasizes the human scale This is, I think, what Mumford s book is best at raising our awareness concerning the way we live In the actual living of day to day, I think it s easy to ignore or dismiss the blight of the city or of our lives , or, feeling that we may be powerless to stop or correct these abuses, to act out in ways which we feel we can affect other aspects of our lives This last iswhat Mumford s book made be consider rather than anything specific he brings out The City as a reflection of power and powerlessness For its ultimate effect on me, I probably should rate the book higher, but, unfortunately it ended up being a slog Perhaps another time, and I would have found it enthralling But Mumford s style here seems bogged down by conjecture and repetition And there are too many instances to count where the author gives us his opinion to buttress his argument as if they were facts One example, pickedor less at random this on the changing environment brought about by suburbia, Compulsive play fast became the acceptable alternative to compulsive work with small gain either in freedom or vital stimulus Accordingly, the two modes of life blend into each other for both in suburb and in metropolis, mass production, mass consumption, and mass recreation produce the same kind of standardized and denatured environment.Maybe this is true Maybe it is relatively true Perhaps it was a solid fact in 1960 I myself might even believe this sometimes, but time after time the author leaves us with these kind of generalizations for support of his larger argument, and which I thought subtracted from the overall effectiveness, even as I was generally sympathetic to his points Mumford gives us examples of superior city planning throughout the book, but, in the end, the solution to the muchprevalent ills is, essentially, that we must want something better and be willing to work for it Like many philosopher humanists before him, I think he overestimates human nature he assumes the mass of humanity not only wants what he would want, but is actually willing to work toward that direction This point, to paraphrase a quote from his essays in the New Yorker, is a matter upon which good men may differ This book s importance is mainly historical As a work of urban planning analysis and history, it is a failure The City in History was written in an era when hand waving and appeal to common knowledge were acceptable ways to argue a point There is little to no primary source information or data to support Mumford s claims about the causes or impacts of various elements in the evolution of urban design E.g on p 448 9 he points to the addition of new crops to the food supply as a key force This book s importance is mainly historical As a work of urban planning analysis and history, it is a failure The City in History was written in an era when hand waving and appeal to common knowledge were acceptable ways to argue a point There is little to no primary source information or data to support Mumford s claims about the causes or impacts of various elements in the evolution of urban design E.g on p 448 9 he points to the addition of new crops to the food supply as a key force behind population growth in the middle ages renaissance, but provides no empirical data to prove this Other technological advancements lower infant mortality rate better medicine better sanitation and so on are likely also to have contributed to the increase in population This is one of many arguments he puts forth that is half baked or presented without data to support it.In short, if this book was being graded by a contemporary professor of history or urban planning, it would receive a failing grade I think it s an interesting book to read for metahistorical perspective, but does little to present a rigorous analysis of the evolution of human settlements Reviewing such a monumental book is in of itself a monumental task, one for which no one is up to task, least of all me There are many observations that you will simply not find in here No review, no summary, could ever substitute reading this book.The best one sentence summary of the book is given by this sentence When both the evil and the remedy are indistinguishable, one may be sure that a deep seated process is at work p 544To give a sense of scale to each potential reader the bo Reviewing such a monumental book is in of itself a monumental task, one for which no one is up to task, least of all me There are many observations that you will simply not find in here No review, no summary, could ever substitute reading this book.The best one sentence summary of the book is given by this sentence When both the evil and the remedy are indistinguishable, one may be sure that a deep seated process is at work p 544To give a sense of scale to each potential reader the book is partitioned in chapters and subchapters, the latter averaging about 5 pages each And almost all of which lend themselves to a book of their own.In order to read Mumford one must understand that we all find ourselves on very murky ground especially when studying ancient history in terms of what we know, or even can now, because most of it has been lost to us, as the author readily admits, and makes extremely clear 10 Therefore, some speculation on the author s part is understandable Further, Lewis Mumford is very careful not to project our own involuted social theories onto the past, as he deservingly criticizes Thomas Hobbes 20 , and contemporary social scientists of doing 30the supposedly combative cave man, whose purely imaginary traits strangely resemble those of a nineteenth century capitalist enterpriser Further, Mumford is a generalist, a dialectical thinker, and a moral philosopher Weaving together the science of many domains with a unique moral acuity 25 , 26 , 27 in an absolutely beautiful dance of history.While this book is city centric, it is by no means a failed analysis of the emergence of civilization itself given that for most of history most people lived in rural areas Mumford tries to carefully point out the roots of modern civilization in the early city, and counterpoise this with its potentialities A staunch critic of hierarchy and centralization, Mumford offers a unique developmental history of the city, and with it of the container as the author calls it through which the first rigid forms of social organization have evolved and perpetuated themselves through history.Mumford traces the emergence of the city to the ziggurat and the priestly class not unlike Abdullah calan What is interesting is that he considers that this form of organization wasn t reinvented multiple times in different parts of the world, but rather it spread from the cradle of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia 40 , and points to the fact that it is again our own biases who find it unimaginable that the city traversed oceans.The author then goes through the ancient Greek civilization, which he admires, but breathlessly critiques Espousing some of the best critiques of Plato 50 and Aristotle 60 , from which he identifies the lost potentiality of Greek civilization achieving a stable order of social organization through confederation 70 that would counterbalance the parochial nature of a single city, thus giving it the chance of surviving the onslaught of Roman civilization that would eventually overwhelm itAll the magnitudes will be stretched in Rome not least the magnitude of debasement and evil Only one symbol can do justice to the contents of that life an open sewer And it is with the sewer that we shall begin p 214 90 Rome stands tall as the first Necropolis in Mumford s analysis congested by traffic 91 , real estate used for speculation 92 , and creating a living hell for the most downtrodden of society 93 Almost a perfect image of the horrors of capitalist society, perfectly present in our past.I will now elide all the other periods treated by Mumford lest this review go on forever Do not mistake this as dismissal of the content If anything, the analysis of the medieval city is the most important part of the book It dispels myths about their democratic character, its sanitary conditions Baroque city came as the grave digger of the organic medieval city, thus laying the ground for the cities of capitalist society 120 with their almost inevitable march towards a new Necropolis.Ruthless critic of capitalist modernity 121 , and of about everything the city has become, Lewis Mumford lifts the fog of the past and gives the reader a unique vision that cuts through time Laced with amazing poetic language 130 this book is a sheer pleasure to read.So far I have only praised Mumford, but there is room for criticism The distinction between speculation and fact is a bit muddled, and is hard to discern from the non specific biography But this is the consequence of the broad strokes through which Mumford paints the picture of history.One might also impute to Mumford that he does not offer any solutions to the boundless critiques well deserved of the development of city into Megapolis and towards Necropolis But the very insistence on universal solutions to such a general problems is part of the problem What Mumford proposes is a ultimately an ecological process, very much dependent on the particularities each city finds itself in, with the only generalizeable actions of dispersion, diffusion within the environment, and confederation of cities as a method of arresting the death march towards Necropolis.References 10 p 55 This inquiry into the origins of the city would readclearly were it not for the fact that perhaps most of the critical changes took place before the historic record opens By the time the city comes plainly into view it is already old the new institutions of civilization have firmly shaped it But there are other difficulties no less formidable for no ancient town has yet been completely excavated and some of the most ancient cities which might reveal much, still continue in existence as dwelling places, smugly immune to the excavator s spade.The gaps in the evidence then, are baffling five thousand years of urban history and perhaps as many of proto urban history are spread over a few score of only partly explored sites The great urban landmarks, Ur, Nippur, Uruk, Thebes, Heliopolis, Assur, Nineveh, Babylon, cover a span of three thousand years whose vast emptiness we cannot hope to fill with a handful of monuments and a few hundred pages of written records On such swampy ground even the most solid hummock of fact may prove treacherous, and too often one must choose between not advancing at all and being dragged down into a bottomless bog of speculation Let the reader be warned he proceeds at his own risk In addition to the imperfection of the visible remains, the two great civilizations in which the city first probably took shape, Egypt and Mesopotamia, present disconcerting contrasts, which only become sharper if one includes Palestine, Iran, and the Indus Valley While all these differences bring out significant alternatives in urban evolution, they make it difficult to give anything like a generalized picture of the origin of the city 20 p 24 The primal war of each against all is a fairy tale Hobbes bellicose primitive man has even less historic reality than Rousseau s noble savage As with the birds, territoriality may have amicably settled boundary claims that only later, undercivilized concern for property and privilege, led to savage conflicts 25 p 74Lack of adequate artificial light remained one of the greatest technical imperfections of the city till the nineteenth century But by 2000 B.C., at all events, most of the major physical organs of the city had been created The nineteenth century observer would hardly have felt at home in the confused mythological conceptions, the bold sexual obscenities, or the bloody sacrificial rituals of the dominant urban religions but scarcely any part of the physical city would have been unfamiliar to him Those of us who are sufficiently conscious of the collective irrationality and decadence of the present age would feel equally at ease or, better, equally ill at ease in both territories 26 p 176If we continue in science and technology along the lines we are now following, without changing our direction, lowering our rate of speed, and re orienting our mechanisms towardvalid human goals, the end is already in sight Instead of deliberately creating an environmenteffective than the ancient city, in order to bring out the maximum number of human potentialities and the maximum amount of significant complexity, our present methods would smooth out differences and reduce potentialities, to create a state of mindless unconsciousness, in which most of man s characteristic activities would be performed only by machines 27 p 102Though we apply terms like hunter, miner, herdsman, peasant to Stone Age groups, we are thus actually transferring a later urban usage to an early phase of human development If we could recapture the mentality of early peoples, we should probably find that they were, to themselves, simply men who fished or chipped flint or dug as the moment or the place might demand That they should hunt every day or dig every day, confined to a single spot, performing a single job or a single part of a job, could hardly have occurred to them as an imaginable or tolerable mode of life Even in our times primitive peoples so despise this form of work that their European exploiters have been forced to use every kind of legal chicane to secure their services 30 p 25 The fact that human beings are naturally curious did not lead inevitably to organized science and the fact that they are given to anger and pugnacity was not sufficient in itself to create the institution of war The latter, like science, is an historic, culture bound achievement witness to a muchdevious connection between complexity, crisis, frustration, and aggression Here the ants haveto teach us than the apes or the supposedly combative cave man, whose purely imaginary traits strangely resemble those of a nineteenth century capitalist enterpriser 40 p 90 92 most content elided But what one finds in the New World is not just a collection of houses and buildings, which might have had the same common ancestor in the mesolithic hamlet One discovers, rather, a parallel collection of cultural traits highly developed fertility ceremonies, a pantheon of cosmic deities, a magnified ruler and central authority who personifies the whole community, great temples whose forms recall such functionally different structures as the pyramid and the ziggurat, along with the same domination of a peasantry by an original hunter warrior group, or among the early Mayas an evenancient priesthood These traits seem too specific to have been spontaneously repeated in a whole constellation Thus one may account for the many differences between Egyptian, Sumerian, Indian, Chinese, Cambodian, Mayan, Peruvian, and Aztec urban centers, without denying their underlying similarities, and without setting any arbitrary barrier, not even the Pacific Ocean, against the possibility of their slow diffusion from a few points Would it not besensible, now that the mobility of early peoples, even on the sea, is becoming apparent, to admit that the idea of the city may have reached the New World from afar, 50 p 175When Plato turned his back on the disorder and confusion of Athens, to rearrange the social functions of the city on an obsolete primitive pattern, he also turned his back, unfortunately, on the essential life of the city itself, with its power to crossbreed, to intermingle, to reconcile opposites, to create new syntheses, to elicit new purposes not predetermined by the petrified structure itself In short, he rejected the potentiality not unrelated to what Plato would have regarded as inadmissible confusion of transcending race and caste and overcoming vocational limitations He saw no way of unifying the divided selves of man without freezing them into so many fixed, graded, and classified parts of the polis 60 p 188What Lavedan has said of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on later city planning and municipal order errs, I fear, on the generous side It consisted in preparing the mind to accept a certain number of restrictions dictated by the collective interest But the fact is that they were not, by anticipation, either apologists or publicists for the new order, which shaped the growing Hellenistic cities without their help, and with little respect for their beliefs Neither Plato nor Aristotle had any just insight into the happy moment that Athens, and in some degree all other Greek cities, had lived through, from the time of Solon to that of Pericles therefore their ideal cities made no provision for continuing and strengthening these creative forces They had no vision of a wider polis, incorporating the ideal principles of Cos, Delphi, and Olympia and working them into the generous complexities of an open society Their ideal city was still just a small static container, under the grim direction of the citadel for support, it had only a self contained economy, supported, at least for Aristotle, by a robust middle class The cultural center of gravity of such a city fell within its own base but on such terms the burgeoning mind of the actual polis would have withered and wilted 70 p 143But Greek practice was far in advance of Greek theory indeed, theory accentuated the separate, the particular, the static, the archaic, and neglected the new tendencies toward dynamic cultural intercourse and political federation Aristotle examined the constitutions of 158 Greek cities, each sufficiently different to merit separate analysis but there is no record of his paying attention to the efforts at creating a general league of cities, though this had begun as early as the sixth century, and before Rome had wiped out the last vestige of Greek freedom, Greece would produce some twenty such confederations 90 p 214All the magnitudes will be stretched in Rome not least the magnitude of debasement and evil Only one symbol can do justice to the contents of that life an open sewer And it is with the sewer that we shall begin 91 p 218As soon as the increase of population created a demand for wheeled traffic in Rome, the congestion became intolerable One of Julius Caesar s first acts on seizing power was to ban wheeled traffic from the center of Rome during the day The effect of this, of course, was to create such a noise at night, with wood or iron shod cartwheels rumbling over the stone paving blocks, that the racket tormented sleep at a much later date, it drove the poet Juvenal into insomnia 92 p 219 220These tenement houses bore the same relation to the spacious palaces and baths of the city as the open cess trenches did to the Cloaca Maxima The building of these insulae, like the building of the tenements of New York, was a speculative enterprise in which the greatest profits were made by both the dishonest contractors, putting together flimsy structures that would barely hold up, and profiteering landlords, who learned how to subdivide old quarters into even narrower cells to accommodate even poorer artisans at a higher return of rent per unit One notes, not without a cynical smile, that the one kind of wheeled traffic permitted by day in Rome was that of the building contractors 93 p 230Even before Rome had changed from Republic to Empire, that city had become a vast collective torture chamber There, at first under the guise of witnessing the just punishment of criminals, the whole population, as Seneca remarked, daily punished itself So thoroughly was Rome committed to this evil that even the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the State did not do away with the practice When the Vandals were hammering at the gates of Hippo, Augustine s city, the groans of the dying defenders on the wall mingled with the roar of the spectators in the circus,concerned with their day s enjoyment than with even their ultimate personal safety 120 p 507 508 At the bottom of this miscarriage of modern technics lies a fallacy that goes to the very heart of the whole underlying ideology the notion that power and speed are desirable for their own sake, and that the latest type of fast moving vehicle must replace every other form of transportation The fact is that speed in locomotion should be a function of human purpose If one wants to meet and chat with people on an urban promenade, three miles an hour will be too fast if a surgeon is being rushed to a patient a thousand miles away, three hundred miles an hour may be too slow But what our experts in transportation are kept by their own stultifying axioms from realizing is that an adequate transportation system cannot be created in terms of any single limited means of locomotion however fast its theoretic speed.What an effective network requires is the largest number of alternative modes of transportation, at varying speeds and volumes, for different functions and purposes The fastest way to move a hundred thousand people within a limited urban area, say a half mile radius, is on foot the slowest way of moving them would be to put them all into motor cars The entire daytime population of historic Boston could assemble by foot on Boston Common, probably in less than an hour if the streets were clear of motor traffic If they were transported by motor car, they would take many hours, and unless they abandoned their unparkable vehicles would never reach their destination.Our highway engineers and our municipal authorities, hypnotized by the popularity of the private motor car, feeling an obligation to help General Motors to flourish, even if General Chaos results, have been in an open conspiracy to dismantle all the varied forms of transportation necessary to a good system, and have reduced our facilities to the private motor car for pleasure, convenience, or trucking and the airplane They have even duplicated railroad routes and repeated all the errors of the early railroad engineers, while piling up in the terminal cities a population the private motor car cannot handle unless the city itself is wrecked to permit movement and storage of automobiles.If technical experts and administrators had known their business, they would have taken special measures to safeguardefficient methods of mass transportation, in order to maintain both the city s existence and the least time wasting use of other forms of transportation To have a complete urban structure capable of functioning fully, it is necessary to find appropriate channels for every form of transportation it is the deliberate articulation of the pedestrian, the mass transit system, the street, the avenue, the expressway, and the airfield that alone can care for the needs of a modern community Nothing less will do 121 p 530 Free competition which was the slogan that broke the old feudal and municipal monopolies gave way to large scale efforts to achieve monopoly or quasi monopoly, now called oligopoly, so that a minority of organizations could control the market and fix prices almost as successfully as if they were in fact one unit The great metropolis was both an agent of this process and a symbol of its overwhelming success 130 p 527Sociologists and economists who base their projects for future economic and urban expansion on the basis of the forces now at work, projecting only such changes as may result from speeding up such forces, tend to arrive at a universal megalopolis, mechanized, standardized, effectively dehumanized, as the final goal of urban evolution Whether they extrapolate 1960 or anticipate 2060 their goal is actually 1984 Just a brief 650 pages Mumford was a prolix guy who saw no need to keep his sentences short, but he knew his subject matter and wasn t shy about making sweeping evaluations of entire centuries and or millennia Why not He s probably right Here is what Louis Mumford thought about the urbanism achievements of various eras as ever so SLIGHTLY simplified by me Neolithic villages Underrated matriarchy Sumer Underrated in importance, but overrated on the quality of life index Irrigation is n Just a brief 650 pages Mumford was a prolix guy who saw no need to keep his sentences short, but he knew his subject matter and wasn t shy about making sweeping evaluations of entire centuries and or millennia Why not He s probably right Here is what Louis Mumford thought about the urbanism achievements of various eras as ever so SLIGHTLY simplified by me Neolithic villages Underrated matriarchy Sumer Underrated in importance, but overrated on the quality of life index Irrigation is nice, but compulsory residence, brutal centralized control, frequent wars, and theocracy is a drag Ancient Egypt, the People of the Nile Highly and correctly rated Minoans Underrated Mycenaeans Maybe underrated Archaic Greece Underrated Great at spawning new village colonies so they didn t exceed their agricultural carrying capacity Earthy and vigorous Awesome smiley statues, not creepy at all, just optimistic Classical Greece Overrated Mumford likes Ancient Greece s early stuff, the first few albums on the indie label before they got big Ancient Rome Overrated Mean spirited and decadent Dark Ages Early Medieval Underrated Then again, it s rated so bad there s nowhere to go but up Early monastic life kinda cool, ya know, from an urban and landscape design POV High Late Medieval Quite underrated Don t believe those Age of Enlightenment smears Late medieval Venice Underrated Renaissance There was no such thing At least not on the subject of urbanism Better to call it the Baroque OK then, Baroque Period Overrated Autocracy and the beginning of capitalism Weird ass fort shapes Weird wigs Not as much Enlightenment as they like to think of themselves But on the plus side, sensual and impious Industrial Capitalism aka Coketown Extremely overrated And it s not rated that great 100 years of Dickensian hellscapes Urban Reformer Ebenezer Howard late 19th early 20th C Extremely underrated Invented the greenbelt and linear parks Proposed to capture land appreciation value for community benefit Garden City idea was very sound but got misunderstood as either horticulture oriented or mistaken for bedroom suburbs or suburban sprawl Promise fulfilled in a few examples, but still untapped potential Wrongly scorned by later Modernist snobs and midcentury technocrats Le Corbusier thinks he s hot but he s not Streetcar era Probably underrated but only if you compare it to the auto age Auto age suburbia Overrated 1963, the year of this book s publication Overrated Fear of nuclear annihilation, you see AND SCENE The city s development from ancient times to the modern age Winner of the National Book Award One of the major works of scholarship of the twentieth century Christian Science Monitor Index illustrations Lewis Mumford s The City in History is great fun to read He provides a dazzling show of erudition moving from De Tocqueville to Gilgamesh to Frederick Law Olmsted to Proust and to Vitruvius with dazzling speed somehow always tying his eclectic stable of references into a coherent narrative history In my case the pleasure of was greatly enhanced by the fact that my prejudices in most instances with those of Mumford which are 1 The Urban Sprawl of the twentieth century was out of control with Lewis Mumford s The City in History is great fun to read He provides a dazzling show of erudition moving from De Tocqueville to Gilgamesh to Frederick Law Olmsted to Proust and to Vitruvius with dazzling speed somehow always tying his eclectic stable of references into a coherent narrative history In my case the pleasure of was greatly enhanced by the fact that my prejudices in most instances with those of Mumford which are 1 The Urban Sprawl of the twentieth century was out of control with profoundly detrimental effects on the environment and the spiritual needs of mankind2 The current urban sprawl is the result of the tendency noted by De Tocqueville for modern, democratic man to focus only on his personal needs as opposed to the needs of the community3 The primary role of the city in society is be a sacred space in the sense used by Mircea Eliade when man s cultural and scientific power can flourish4 The history of our cities has been calamitous The cities are laid with one purpose in mind and then develop in a different historical context The perpetual contradiction between vision and reality leads to a perpetual cycle of growth, decay and destruction.Mumford argues that cities grew from an innate desire for man to have a central, sacred place for burial Nomadic societies all tended to create special holy places for this purpose Hence the first cities were for the dead rather than the living.When man the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary existence, the former sacred places became the first cities Kingship as an institution appeared at the this time Accordingly the first cities were laid out with wide avenues and elevated temples as a political statements endorsing kingship.The trading cities of classical Greece produced a great age in which cities were designed for the citizens There was a great deal of thought about the optimal population and physical dimensions of cities By setting these two parameters correctly the Greeks believed that cities would foster prosperity and cultural development The period of Classical antiquity produced the greatest urban planning of human cities Cities were hygienic, prosperous and culturally rich.In the dark ages, cities become fortresses True urban planning suffered Public hygiene and sanitation suffered The poor were forced into tenements A long era of catastrophic plagues and epidemics set in.During the age of the enlightenment, the orientation turned towards showiness Huge overgrown urban plans like the Place de la Concorde in Paris or the l Enfant Boulevard in Washington were created.The age of industrialism in the nineteenth century created the blighted urban concentrations we now live in The needs of the transportation system first trains and then cars came before the needs of the people Cities became extremely noisy Air quality deteriorated rapidly due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels In a rapidly, growing industrial societies sprawled created massive conurbations with no centre Mumford concluded that at the time of his writing in the 1960s the situation was simply out of control The urban expansion was accelerating Cities no longer generated a sense of community and man s cultural development was being suffocated More than 50 years, later Mumford s description of our urban society still seems to hold The problems which were once most visible in North America and Western Europe have simply become global Unfortunately, Mumford really does not offer much of a solution He appears to believe that urban planning could be implemented on a national scale so that instead of one massive conurbation, nations would be composed of a network of smaller optimally sized cities However, there is no road map for getting to this ideal state Presumably it is the duty of this generation to make such a road map.The main criticism of this book is that it is based on eclectic, hodgepodge of readings running from Saint Augustine to Daniel Burnham to Marcel Proust and essentially lacks any sort of methodology It can then be dismissed out of hand as being nothingthan the expression of an opinion, albeit a very erudite one Despite agreeing with Mumford on most issues, I myself wished at times that he could prevent orsystematic defense of his case It s an obligation to read this book for every urban researcher to know what innovative thoughts are just reinventions of ones in the past. Possibly the most valuable book I have read An education in what a city should be. This has everything I do not want to write anything. 1961 Copyright Harvest Book by Harcourt, Inc 575 pagesSummary The author describes the design of cities in Europe and the USA as a place for humans to live by periods ancient pre historical Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete , classical historical, Greece and Rome medieval 8th to 16 centuries , baroque 16 18th centuries, the industrial revolution , suburbia and contemporary up to 1960 His descriptions include economic, religious, military and ethnic factors that influence the development of citi 1961 Copyright Harvest Book by Harcourt, Inc 575 pagesSummary The author describes the design of cities in Europe and the USA as a place for humans to live by periods ancient pre historical Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete , classical historical, Greece and Rome medieval 8th to 16 centuries , baroque 16 18th centuries, the industrial revolution , suburbia and contemporary up to 1960 His descriptions include economic, religious, military and ethnic factors that influence the development of cities and their design His perspective is humanistic, that is, he regards cities as a place for the common person to live and realize his her full potential Needless tosay, most cities through most of history have not been successful in this regard What makes this history compelling is just this perspective it causes one to consider his her own life and its potential Social interactions in the city are deemed essential for the social development of one s self Predictably, Athens is portrayed as a high point, generating the familiar great Greeks such as Sophocles and Socrates Venice and Amsterdam also win high praise as does the townships and villages of New England The village is his ideal community size for social development Community religious pageants are considered very important In several chapter sections, he opines about democracy and the gap between the rich in control and the poor workers He is very realistic but his sympathy is definitely for the exploited workers Most of the grand monuments and structures that we visit today were built on the exploitation of ignorant workers inured to tyranny Spaciousness, especially green space, as in parks has his recommendation and approval.His vision The purpose of the city That magnification of all the dimensions of life, through emotional communion, rational communication, technological mastery, and above all, dramatic representation, has been the supreme office of the city in history the next to the last sentence in the book.Evaluation Commentary There is a wealth of information and insights in this history with a good bit of opinion thrown in It is well written but somewhat verbose and his opinions are somewhat repetitious These are opinions about the gap between the rich and the poor, exploitation of the workers and democratic governance He detests ostentatiousness and conspicuous waste of wealth The palaces, cathedrals and monuments were built with taxes from the common people The narrative heats up with some passion at these points which roused me on several occasions in agreement He has a refreshing evaluation of the Greek culture as exemplified in Athens Athens was a democracy only for free men, not for women nor slaves It also was piratical, subjugating other Greek cities to get tributes taxes , instead of forming a confederation as equals for mutual defense and aid.His ideal city is rather vague discussing suburbs he likes openness and greenery and variety of design but complains that they are too insulated from the problems and social interactions of the city Describing inner cities, he complains that they need green space andprivacy The ideal still seems to be the prehistoric village So his criteria seems to shift somewhat from one case to another.One glaring deficiency seems to be total disregard for efforts to tolerate and assimilate other cultures within neighborhoods His vision is limited to homogenous neighborhoods where a common religion is shared I imagine that he would support assimilation if he were alive today But I don t see how the envisioned communal self can be achieved with large cultural and religiousdifferences.Credentials Lewis Mumford was not a historian on a collegiate faculty, but rather a journalist, serving as an architectural critic for the New Yorker magazine for 30 years He is the author of many books about design and cities This book was the National Book Award winner in 1961 He is very well read in this field as his bibliography testifies.Rating I rated it 4 stars mostly due to vision and scholarship I did not give it a 5 because of verbosity and some repetition Actually, 4.5 would be accurate This is a very thought provoking read, causing me to reflect on my own life and how to achieve my maximal potential The City In History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, And Its Prospects


About the Author: Lewis Mumford

Lewis Mumford October 19, 1895 January 26, 1990 was an American historian and philosopher of technology and science Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a tremendously broad career as a writer that also included a period as an influential literary critic Mumford was influenced by the work of Scottish theorist Sir Patrick Geddes.


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