The Culture of Cities

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The culture of cities

Centenary paper: The evolution of cities: Geddes, Abercrombie and the new physicalism. The agents of power, the aristocracy, the political bureaucracy, and the army began to direct "national interests'" toward the service of the industrialist: they sought raw materials and markets capable of absorbing his excess production: hence the partition of Africa, Asia, and similar "backward" sections of the world.

This coalition of economic interests was in good part responsible for the continuous increase of population in the great capitals during the nineteenth century, and for the building up of new metropolitan centers. The overgrown city, instead of appearing as an isolated phenomenon, an emblem of purely political concentration, became the dominant type: Coketown, the pure industrial city, was the recessive form after Even in the most secluded provincial town, the pattern of institutional life was a metropolitan one: the shibboleths of power-politics, the orgiastic urges of nationalism, the acceptance of both the commercial and the cultural trade-marks of the metropolis became well-nigh universal.

England, whose utilitarians had turned the green country of Shakespeare into the Black Country of Dickens, proceeded during the nineteenth century to paint the rest of the map red. In successive waves of belligerent exploitation, other counties followed suit. The colors of life, ebbing from the insensate milieu of the industrial towns, flowed back into the metropolis in the gay uniforms of the Guards and Cuirassiers. The basis for metropolitan agglomeration lay in the tremendous increase in population that took place during the nineteenth century: People of European stock multiplied from about two hundred million at the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars to about six hundred million at the outbreak of the World War.

In not a city in the Western World had over a million in population: London, the biggest, had only ,, while Paris had a little more than half a million, and Wien about half of that. By London had over two millions and Paris over a million inhabitants: they were still without serious rivals.

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But by eleven metropolises with more than a million inhabitants had come into existence, including Berlin, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Wien, Tokyo, and Calcutta. Thirty years later, as a result of this feverish concentration of capital and the military and mechanical means of exploitation, there were twenty-seven cities with more than a million population, headed by New York and grading down to Birmingham, including metropolises on every continent, even Australia.

The rise of cities with a population of over a hundred thousand was equally marked: likewise the spread of vast suburba rings around the central districts of all these cities.

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Nearly one-half of the population of the United States at the time of the census lived within a radius of from twenty to fifty miles of cities with over a hundred thousand inhabitants. The mere alteration of scale and extent resulted in qualitative changes in these centers. What forces furthered this process of urban agglomeration?

What made the metropolis the image of social hope and economic enterprise, even for those parts of the world whose dear ways of life were sapped and undermined by the extension of "la ville tentaculaire"? The means of agglomeration were the continental railroad lines and the worldwide lanes of ocean commerce: means which brought an endless flow of raw materials and foods into the metropolis: all roads led to the capital. Once the means of instantaneous communication were available, there was a fresh incentive to concentrate the organs of administration: production could be controlled, the shipment of goods routed, orders given and canceled, credits extended and the exchanges of goods and drafts cleared, on a single spot.

Remote control, first embodied in the separation of staff and line in the army, spread to business operations. With the manufacture of the typewriter in the seventies, and the coincident spread of high speed stenography, more and more business could be conducted on paper.


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Mechanical means of communication: mechanical means of making and manifolding the permanent record: mechanical systems of audit and control - all these devices aided the rise of a vast commercial bureaucracy, capable of selling in ever remoter territories. The word bureaucracy had indeed become a discouraging by-word for inefficiency, by the middle of the nineteenth century: Dickens needed no special powers of invention to create Sir Tite Barnacle and the Circumlocution Office.

Everyone experienced, throughout the financial and political world, the difficulty of getting things done by direct action. The simplest civil act required legal sanctions, documents, verifications. From the searching of a deed up to the establishment of civil rights in marriage, no one could move without the aid of special functionaries.

Lawyers, who knew the prescribed forms and technicalities, formed a large part of the growing professional population: their services were needed in the observance, and even more in the tactful breach, of the law. In all this development, the political bureaucracy served as a special target for chronic disparagement: it was supposed to have a monopoly of roundabout methods and a finicking attention to form.

Such an attitude overlooked the fact that the greatest development of bureaucracy during the last century took place within the realm of business itself : this development put to shame the punier additions to the governmental bureaucracy. Plainly, no great corporate enterprise with a worldwide network of agents, correspondents, market outlets, factories, and investors could exist without relying upon the services of an army of patient clerkly routineers in the metropolis: stenographers, filing clerks, and bookkeepers, office managers, sales managers, and their varied assistants, right up to the fifth vice-president whose name or o.

The housing of this bureaucracy in office buildings and tenements and residential suburbs constituted one of the major tasks of metropolitan expansion: their transportation back and forth to work, within a limited time-span, raised one of the difficult technical problems that confronted the city planner and the engineer. Not merely did the bureaucracy itself require office space and living space: but the by-products of its routine came to occupy an increasing share of the new quarters: files, vaults, places for live storage and dead storage, parade grounds and cemeteries of documents, where the records of business were alphabetically kept, with an eye to the possibility of future exploitation, future reference, future lawsuits, future contracts.

This age found its form in a new type of office building: a sort of human filing case, whose occupants spent their days in the circumspect care of paper: numbering, ticketing, assorting, routing, recording, manifolding, filing, to the end that the commodities and services thus controlled could be sold to the profit of the absentee owners of the corporation. A new trinity dominated the metropolitan scene: finance, insurance, advertising. By means of these agents, the metropolis extended its rule over subordinate regions, both within its own political territory and in outlying domains: directly or indirectly, they expedited the flow of tribute back into the big centers.

Economic enterprise, political power, social authority, once divided over the length and breadth of the land, now concentrated in the seven Romes. To obtain money, one must go to the metropolis: to exercise influence, one must achieve a prominent financial position in the metropolis. Here and there a lone wolf, like Henry Ford, would temporarily remain outside the system. But such isolation would be largely an illusion: mark how Ford himself, who once manufactured a car adapted to popular needs and rural life, finally succumbed to the lure of metropolitan style in the outer design of his car.

Monopoly capitalism : credit finance : pecuniary prestige — these are the three sides of the metropolitan pyramid. Whatever goes on in the big city ultimately traces back to one or another of these elements. The metropolis is the natural reservoir of capital under this economic phase; for its banks, its brokerage offices, its stock exchanges, serve as a collecting point for the savings of the surrounding country, and in the case of world capitals, for the surplus capital of foreign investors.

The Art of Public Space: The Culture of Cities

Investors and manufacturers both gravitate to the metropolis: the more constant the need for credit capital, the more important for the borrower to be close to the big banks that can advance it. Lewis Mumford extracts from The Culture of Cities Note Through the history of towns, Lewis Mumford presents the recurring themes of power and progress. Territory and city in the late Middle Ages From the beginning of the Middle Ages two powers had been jockeying for leadership in Western Europe: one was royal, the other municipal. The national territory itself became the connecting link between diverse groups, corporations, cities: the nation was an all-embracing society one entered at birth.

The new theorists of law, as Gierke pointed out, were driven to deny that local communities and corporate bodies had an existence of their own: the family was the sole group outside the state, whose existence was looked upon as self-validated, the only group that did not need the gracious permission of the sovereign to exercise its natural functions.